SEOUL (June 23, 2012) —An East-West Center International Media Conference panel Saturday on using social media to report extreme stories began with a message – in Morse code.
The Voice of America Northeast Asia bureau chief, Steven Herman, brandished a telegraph while he made the point that crowdsourcing is nothing new, “although a hell of a lot easier” today.
“When I started in journalism, if you wanted to communicate into a disaster area or a war zone, frequently you needed to resort to something like a ham radio or Morse code,” Herman said.
Herman began using Twitter after the 2008 bombings in Mumbai. He said the chaos overwhelmed the mainstream media, but people inside the besieged hotels were able to live-tweet the attacks.
When he started using Twitter, he thought, “I’ll just use it the same way that, when I started in the business, we used to use the police scanner.” He has since adjusted his tweeting habits to distribute information as well.
When Thailand experienced its worst flooding in decades last year, Praj Kiatpongsan, an anchor for Thailand’s Nation Broadcasting Corporation, used Twitter as a way to gather information amid the tumultuous situation. But he also used the site to direct his coverage to the areas most affected by the rising waters.
“Sixty-five out of 77 provinces were submerged, so it wasn’t easy to prioritize every assignment,” said Kiatpongsan. Now, “we tweet first, write the script second.”
Maya Rodriguez, a reporter for WWL TV in New Orleans, pointed to social media’s pitfalls, chief among them access in low-income areas.
“There are somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of people in New Orleans who do not have Internet access. None,” she said. “So while I think new media is an wonderful tool, I think it’s something that needs to be combined with traditional media.”
— Reporting by Adam Aton, Missouri School of Journalism