Lessons learned from reporting of Japanese disaster

You can get a citizen-eye-view of Japan’s March 10, 2011, 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami by visiting CitizenTube, YouTube’s news and politics blog. 
Videos were posted by citizens and many have been rebroadcast on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and on major broadcast networks. Social websites such as Facebook and Twitter also were places where pictures, videos and moment-by-moment reports were made by thousands and seen by millions around the world.
Even before the shaking receded, many grabbed their video cameras and cell phone cameras and started sharing scenes of devastation and personal trauma. Some were accompanied with screams of terror and others with expletives. Some were done with steady hand and restrained movement, others trembling and erratic. All of them were eyewitnesses to a historic disaster. When they shared their videos with the world, they made an important contribution to the production of news.

YouTube reported to ABC News that by the afternoon of March 11, the day of the disaster, the number of earthquake-related videos posted exceeded 9,000 and over 7,000 tsunami-related videos had been posted.

 Many of these citizen-posted videos and photos were the only visuals available to news editors during the first few hours after the destruction began. CNN broadcast many of them uploaded through its iReport portal, while Fox News used submissions from its uReport portal. Some citizens used Skype to file reports that were broadcast live.

Citizen journalists can learn three lessons from this event:

First of all, be prepared. Learn how to use CNN, Fox News and other news media’s uploading tools and procedures so when you are a part of a breaking news event you will know how to get your videos, photos and written reports online. Some news agencies want you to register first. Visit all the news agencies you would like to post to and find out what they require from you.

Second, practice. If you do video, practice filming while walking backwards or while holding your camera above your head. Go to a festival or local sporting event and shoot video as if it was a breaking news event. Your best video will be shot using a tripod – so practice setting up and using one. Then get good at editing a short video that tells a story.
Third, employ the correct use of audio. Sometimes you need to be silent and let the noise of the event tell the story. Sometimes you may need to add commentary such as, “This is the corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue in MyTown. The water from the Big Bad River is coming from the north to the south.” Do your best to not use expletives or to say the obvious such as, “Holy crap – look at that house. It is completely under water.”

CLICK HERE for an example of a steady hand on the camera and no commentary from the videographer allowing the natural sounds of the recent Japanese tsunami to be sufficient for the moment.  It is hoped that you will never have to report about something as devastating as these recent events in Japan. But if you put into action the above three suggestions, you will be ready – just in case.

Ron Ross is a co-author of Handbook for Citizen Journalists and the co-founder of the National Association of Citizen Journalists. He lives in San Diego, CA, USA