Eleven days ago, in the town of Joplin, Missouri in the central United States, one of the deadliest tornados in recent memory struck, killing 142 people, causing billions in damages, and leaving survivors in shock. Twelve hours after the tornado touched down, Brian Stelter, a television and media writer for the New York Times, was on a plane bound for Chicago and the taping of Oprah Winfrey’s final show. He decided to head to Joplin to cover the tornado story instead.
Here’s a fascinating blog post from Stelter about the process of attempting to cover a tornado disaster for a national newspaper. He relies on text messages and local radio for information. He uses the local McDonald’s WiFi to send Twitter updates and Instagram photos to colleagues about the damage and the stories of the people left in the tornado’s wake.
In reaction to Stelter’s account, Jeff Jarvis, director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York, suggests that this method of covering a story using frequent, short updates by the person at the scene puts the focus squarely on reporting, not the production of a news article, which can be done by other writers not directly there. According to Jarvis, this is how it should be for disaster coverage, now and in the future.