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Disaster Response Technology and Local News

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In wake of the rampant wildfires in southern California over the past week, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the use of technology in keeping the public aware of the disaster’s progress.  Most people know of my particular disdain for local news, mostly because of their sensationalism of mundane or outdated stories for the sake of ratings.  Here’s a classic example of why I hate local news:


Almost nothing that they say on local news is something that I haven’t already read or seen on the Internet, and if it is something I haven’t already consumed on the Internet, it usually doesn’t interest me.  That said, having the TV stations do nothing but 24-hour coverage of the fires didn’t help that opinion.  They asked dumb questions in a repetitive fashion, replayed the same video day-old video footage like it was new and they rarely give you the information that you needed.  However, the Internet had a plethora of great resources to give you the information you needed and did it faster than the TV stations.

KPBS, which is traditionally a non-profit TV station, had the best Internet coverage as far as I could tell.  They set up a Twitter account and posted up-to-the-minute updates with the most important information.  I’ve never really been a fan of Twitter, but this is a really good use of the technology.  Twitter allows you to get updates by looking at the site, subscribing to their RSS feed, receiving IMs or text messages to your cell phone.  All of these methods are free to the user and keep you in the know faster than TV news and without all the garbage associated.

Google Maps Fire

KPBS also set up a Google Maps mashup with all the fire information in geographical form.  It showed where all the fires were burning, where the shelters were set up for both people and animals, which roads were closed, which neighborhoods you were allowed to re-enter and a lot of other miscellaneous data.  It was also updated as soon as data came in from the authorities.

The San Diego Union-Tribune set up a special fire blog with updates as well.  There were also hundreds of other bloggers posting firsthand updates about the fires, shelters, etc.  Local news just can’t compete with citizen journalism because they can’t scale to the sheer number of people available to report.

Facebook also helped me keep track of how my friends in the area were doing, as they updated their status and posted comments on other people’s walls.  It allowed me to more efficiently find out how people were doing and keep the phone lines clear for emergency personnel to use.

So what does it all mean?

It means that people are starting to get used to information being tailored to their needs and available in multiple formats, rather than passively viewing it on TV.

It means that given the opportunity, people will organize and distribute quality information by themselves in order to help others.

It means that the few major media outlets will have less control over information flow in the future and that small armies of dedicated citizens will give people a choice when it comes to the type of information they want to receive.

This is a Good Thing™.

Written by Curtis Chambers

October 27, 2007 at 11:39 pm

Mainstream media’s lack of journalistic integrity

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I saw this video today and had to write about it.  It’s a perfect example of what’s wrong with the mainstream media in today’s society.  Before I go into my rant, I’ll post the video here so you can watch it as well.

Now I’ve never done this drug or any other hallucinogenics so I can’t really claim to have personal knowledge about them, but this story is completely over-dramatized.  Here’s a few reasons to question this story:

  1. The medical examiner found no traces of salvinorin in his system.
  2. He was on an acne medication that has been linked to depression.
  3. His parents were divorced, which has been shown to lead to higher depression rates.
  4. He was an alcohol user, a demographic that has nearly twice the suicide rate of non-alcohol users.

I’m not saying this wasn’t a tragic event or that his mother was at fault.  This post is mostly a criticism of the hysteria that mainstream media produces by distorting and/or omitting the facts.  They wanted to produce a sensationalist piece that got under people’s skin, so they only showed the things that would “shock and awe.”  The irony of it is that the local Delaware news presented all the facts and what happened, while the mainstream media outlets (CNN, ABC, NBC and USA Today) took the story and reported it as a “salvia suicide”, even though there are no documented cases of fatalities from salvia use.

In reality, the mother believes that it was a wide variety of things that caused her son’s death, which is probably the truth.  CNN also took this quote from his journal:

“Salvia allows us to give up our senses and wander in the interdimensional time and space….  Also, and this is probably hard for most to accept, our existence in general is pointless.  Final point: Us earthly humans are nothing.”

Deducing that salvia killed him from that quote is purely a red herring.  Anyone with any sort of intelligence has probably thought the same thought at one point in their life, even without drugs.  You’d probably come to the same conclusion from reading a Stephen Hawking book, but no one ever blames that for killing people.

In the end, it seems that the news is becoming more and more of an entertainment source than a source of information. The well-informed are turning to other sources to get their information.

Written by Curtis Chambers

July 30, 2007 at 8:23 pm

Posted in Culture, Media, Thoughts, Video


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