What Sandy Teaches Us About How People Get Information Today

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Recently, the East Coast was hit by Superstorm Sandy. With 85 mph winds, rushing tides and overwhelming flooding, Sandy brought New York City’s power grid to a crashing halt. For nearly a week, major portions of the five boroughs were without power, including the entire southern third of Manhattan, with a stunning demarcation line at 39th street.

Naturally in a time of crisis, we all know the value of being “plugged in” to news reports and city press conferences for the current weather outlook, the state of the city, evacuation zones and what to do next. But what to do when the power goes out and you suddenly find your link to traditional news sources has been severed? You go mobile.

Without traditional information sources, such as television or wireless Internet, alternative media outlets and methods emerged throughout the storm and its aftermath. Fortunately, I own a smartphone and although I lost cable and Internet, cellular reception was spared in my neighborhood. So for information gathering, my first stop was a liveblog, a continuously updating blog generated by a local news site. The liveblog kept me up to date on various neighborhood flooding, fires and power failures, not to mention the status of the storm.

I also used Instagram, the ubiquitous mobile photo app for smartphones. Via its news feed and searchable Sandy tags, Instagram provided an amazing account of what thousands of eyes (and lenses) were witnessing firsthand across the city. Rising waters and candlelit apartments alike were given the vintage filter treatment for my consumption. Not only is Instagram updated in real-time, but it also allowed a unique and personal perspective beyond what an AP photographer or news crew might have provided.

Next was Facebook. While not typically the most trustworthy news source, it successfully acted as a community board for the status and wellbeing of friends, relatives and coworkers alike, when cellular reception faltered or failed. And to distract from storm-related stress, there was of course, the requisite chorus of complaints bemoaning Sandy.

During the later stages of Sandy and her aftermath, I took to Twitter for status updates and repair efforts. Though my cable and Internet had yet to be restored,@MTAInsider debunked premature rumors of reopening service and later announced that limited bus service would be available fare-free. Meanwhile,@ConEdison notified its followers about ongoing repairs and restored neighborhood networks.

So do these instances amid Sandy reflect a larger trend in the way we consume information? Are we really taking incremental steps away from traditional news sources or did desperate times call for desperate measures? It may be hard to say, but with Chetan Sharma Consulting recently reporting that half of Americans now own smartphones, alternative news-gathering may be the new normal, making diversified outreach options something every company needs to have at the ready.

Post by Sarah Fait
Associate Strategist

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