Tsunami Blogs Help Redefine News and Relief Effort

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic Channel
Updated January 28, 2005

The tsunami unleashed one month ago received saturation coverage in the mainstream media, of course. But the disaster has also been widely reported on the Internet by "citizen journalists"—eyewitnesses who published their own stories online via journals known as Web logs, or blogs.

The stories are personal and gripping and engage readers in ways that cannot be replicated by professional journalists who did not experience the events for themselves. The rise of personal publishing online is impacting the professional media in many ways. But not all the stories are accurate, or even real—and some of the images are hoaxes.

Jay Rosen chairs New York University's journalism department and publishes a blog called PressThink. He describes the blogging boom in the words of Internet expert Clay Shirky: a victory of affinity over geography.

"That means that the cost for like-minded people to find each other has gone way down," Rosen explained. "We saw it with the 'meetups' in politics [people find each other other via the Web, then arrange face-to-face meetings to discuss common interests]. Now eyewitnesses to the tsunami [are finding] those who want firsthand accounts. People with aid to give are finding those in need of aid."

From the Source

As the world struggled to comprehend the scale of the tsunami devastation, first person accounts, images, and video quickly appeared. Bloggers became an information source both for the public and for mainstream media outlets.

"This is journalism. Raw, unedited, but still journalism," said Jonathan Dube, MSNBC.com managing producer and publisher of CyberJournalist.net, a site that tracks the impact of Web logs on journalism.

"Hearing about individual experiences directly from the people who survived the tsunami offered readers a different, more personal perspective on the human side of the tragedy than most of the articles published by news organizations."

One eyewitness blogger is American Rick Von Feldt, a Singapore resident who witnessed the tsunami while vacationing on the beach in Phuket, Thailand. What began as "I'm OK" e-mails to friends and relatives soon became a blog detailing his survival experiences. Now his "Phuket Tsunami Blogspot" features a collection of firsthand tales from many other survivors.

"We all stood there, stunned," Von Feld e-mailed just after the disaster. "People came running up the road—shreiking. 'Water—the water' they were crying. The water receeded slight[ly]—and then, again with a vengence. Rushed forward—rose again—and the 18 feet [5.5-meter] wall rolled over the front of the beach—the shops and everything in its path.

"We stood there in disbelief—not understanding WHY—but realizing that one of the most awful things that could happen—just had."

"The goal has been all along to have people connect to real feelings," Von Feldt said in an e-mail to National Geographic News. "Not just what the televisions say in a 30 second or 60 second 'soundbyte' story—but more."

Continued on Next Page >>


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