NOLA.com blogs and forums help save lives after Katrina
wa·ter·shed n. 1. A ridge of high land dividing two areas that are drained by different river systems. 2. A critical point that marks a division or a change of course; a turning point. (American Heritage Dictionary)
As the water finally starts to recede in New Orleans, the watershed for online journalism has been laid bare. Hurricane Katrina brought forth a mature, multi-layered online response that built on the sense of community after 9/11, the amateur video of the Southeast Asian tsunami disaster and July 7 London bombings, and the on-the-scene blogging of the Iraq War.
I spent one entire afternoon glued to my computer, reading The Interdictor blog, written by DirectNIC crisis manager Michael Barnett about survival in a downtown high-rise in New Orleans. But no one could touch the incredible journalism done by the staffs of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, its online counterpart NOLA.com, and Advance Internet (the corporate head of NOLA.com).
NOLA.com is known more for its MardiGras.com site and its live webcam, but now has become Exhibit A in the importance of the Internet for newspaper companies during a disaster. When the newspaper couldn't possibly be printed or distributed, the NOLA.com news blog became the source for news on hurricane damage and recovery efforts -- including updates from various reporters on the ground and even full columns and news stories.
The blog actually became the paper, and it had to, because the newspaper's readership was in diaspora, spread around the country in shelters and homes of families and friends. The newspaper staff was transformed into citizen journalists, with arts reviewers doing disaster coverage and personal stories running alongside hard-hitting journalism. In a time of tragedy and loss, the raw guts of a news organization were exposed for us to see.
And it wasn't just about newsgathering. NOLA.com editor Jon Donley turned over his NOLA View blog to his readers, who sent in dozens of calls for help. Those calls were relayed onto the blog, which was monitored constantly by rescuers, who then sent in teams to save them.