How Stuff and NZ Herald reached out during quake coverage

This is an old post but I’m leaving it here for the hell of it. Failed links have been updated or removed.

Interesting post from Fairfax Media’s Reuben Schwarz about features NZ news sites used in their coverage of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

He talks about how the main sites – nzherald.co.nz and stuff.co.nz – worked with other people, in a way not seen before.

“The quake changed the way the nzherald.co.nz and stuff.co.nz sites pulled in outside content… Early on, both sites used Storify to create a moderated feed of Facebook comments, tweets, YouTube clips and news from other sites as well as their own (click here to see an example). But moderating takes time, and quite a lot of time if you want to do a good job. So after three days both sites dropped Storify in favour of automated Twitter feeds.

“Both sites embedded Twitter widgets into their homepages and other section landing pages… Usually major news site are a bit wary about allowing outside content in unmoderated (for legal and sweary reasons), but for the quake things happened so quickly a news org didn’t have much choice if it wanted to help its readers stay informed.

“Stuff and other sites also directed people to Google’s person finder – where you can hunt for info on loved ones or post info on people you know are ok – and Trade Me’s (Fairfax-owned like Stuff.co.nz, but we operate independently) nice tool to find or offer accommodation, support for pets and lots of other things. The folks at Trade Me did a great job to get this up about 24 hours after the quake struck. Its 6700 listings have had about a million views, by about 250,000 people (thanks to Mod at Trade Me for the lovely numbers).”

I was especially interested in Reuben’s take on the Christchurch Recovery Map, eq.org.nz, which I’ve had a little to do with. The team behind eq.org.nz were very impressed at how willing media sites, stuff.co.nz and nzherald.co.nz in particular, were to work with them – embedding the map in their websites as well as linking out to it. (Forgive me, Reuben, I’ve grabbed a chunk of your post here).

“You’ve probably seen the excellent Ushahidi-based crowdsourced map, which lets people in Christchurch report on dangers and working services in their area. This was put together by a global group of techie volunteers in response to the quake and is a great way to quickly find out what’s going on in your area. They did a fabulous job under tight deadlines and tough conditions.

“Earlier versions used CrowdMap, a free web-hosted version of Ushahidi (which is open source and usually downloaded and hosted on your own servers).  You may not have seen Stuff’s own CrowdMap of the quake, which went live about 20 minutes after it struck. And lots of others sprang up by later that afternoon.

“This led to problems. Stuff and everyone we talked to wanted one crowdsourced map, but everyone wanted that map to be their own. Having the biggest NZ news site and the first live Crowdmap of the quake, we naturally thought it should be ours.

“But Stuff decided to drop its own Crowdmap and point to the one being organised by the group of techie volunteers instead. It wasn’t my decision, but I think there were two reasons for that:

1. The altruistic one: We knew that having one place to report and find info would lead to the best quality info for people in Christchurch, and the longer it took to agree the less useful the tool would be for people who really needed good info quickly.

2. The practical one: Handling a crowdsourced map also takes a lot of technical and web editing manpower, and Stuff wanted to devote as many people as it could to our core business: creating good news content.

“That’s interesting, because I suspect a year ago that wouldn’t have happened. I can’t say for sure, but I think Stuff would probably have forged ahead with its own map to retain legal and editorial oversight. But the magnitude of the disaster and the changing mood of online media in 2011 meant we took a different approach.

“And there’s something else – Stuff trusted the organisers would do a good job. We have much stronger ties now into NZ’s software community than we did a year ago. It’s not that they wouldn’t have done a good job a year ago – I’m sure they would have – but when you know people personally it’s much easier to make that leap of faith.

“Well done all round. Let’s keep strengthening those links. The rest of Reuben’s post is here.”

Reuben has also posted website visitor figures for the main NZ news sites during the period after the earthquake.