30 October 2007

LA Fires Prompt Online Innovations

The recent wildfires that swept through Southern California encouraged newsrooms to be more creative with their digital offerings.

Fast-moving infernos prompted several newspapers to join forces on a community search site which enabled users to inform each other of their whereabouts and swap contact information.

Editor & Publisher reports that the unique Firesearch collaboration project was launched by the Los Angeles Times and linked to by a number of other news sites, including the San Diego Union-Tribune and the North County Times of Escondido.

“We are all in this thing together, so it made sense to get involved,” commented Chris Jennewein, vice president for internet operations at the Union-Tribune.

Although Californian newspapers are well versed in reporting wildfires, there had not been a major event for four years so new technological innovations were used to improve coverage.

Online Journalism Review reports that this included interactive mapping tools which were employed by several newsrooms.

LA Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein said his website’s interactive Google firemap proved a successful information tool for both journalists and the public at large.

“It started as this in-house tracking system that evolved into something that we shared with outside users. And it worked out beautifully.”

User-generated content also formed a core part of online coverage with thousands of people uploading video and still photographs to a variety of news websites.

Beet.TV reports that major broadcaster CNN received its highest ever number of uploaded videos and pictures, surpassing the content received after other major incidents such as the collapsed bridge at Minneapolis.

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