When my in-laws were told to evacuate their home in Houston last week, they were lucky; they managed to book a flight out to our home in VA before the two Houston airports closed down. We spent Saturday and Sunday watching the news and hoping their friends and home were safe. The most frustrating part about watching the news was the lack of local news — news about the neighborhoods, the houses, the schools, the people. Thank goodness for the citizen journalists of Houston.
While CNN, MSNBC, and all the networks showed the same footage of the Hilton’s wall falling off, and the Houston highway that was six feet under water, my in-laws wanted to know how their Clear Lake neighborhood was doing. Did everyone evacuate? Is everyone okay? Did the bayou flood? How much tree damage was there? Does the neighborhood have power?
Slowly, and then more rapidly, especially by Monday afternoon, we got lots of information from the citizen journalists of Houston.
Here is a YouTube video of a couple driving down the highway looking for their boat. This road is close to where my in-laws live.
A teenager chronicled the arrival of Hurricane Ike on YouTube; click on related videos; he has a whole series.
The local radio station, KHOU, hosts a forum about specific Houston neighborhoods. We got great information about the Clear Lake neighborhood, including power and damage reports.
The Houston Chronicle encourages citizens to report on electricity being restored, and then compiles the information on a grid and a Yahoo! map. Fabulous!
Contrast the Chronicle site with that of Reliant Energy, the local power company. On Sunday, the site reported that 90% of their customers had no power and basically said, “don’t call us, we know you don’t have power.” No updates on where work was being done, and no estimates on when power would be restored. Reliant finally put up a storm center microsite but it still contains scant information. I give it a thumbs down for usefulness and timeliness.
In “We Media: How audiences are shaping the future of news and information,” Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis describe citizen journalists as “active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and information.” It seems that professional journalists are no longer the exclusive gatekeepers of the news. Don’t you love the Web?
P.S. Since many of you have asked, I’m pleased to report that my in-laws and their home are fine. They went home on Tuesday to find that their property sustained a lot of tree damage, but thankfully, the house suffered no flooding, just minor cosmetic damage. Even the power is back on.