Hurricane Isaac news coverage illuminates potential of hybrid form of journalism

By Ian Tennant

Reporters and news organizations covering Hurricane Isaac, which left a path of destruction and flooding in U.S. Gulf Coast states last week, may have offered a glimpse into the future of journalism, suggests an industry observer for the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Watching the storm from her home in south Mississippi, Gina Musallo Chen said she "saw the emergence of a hybrid form of media coverage," one that bodes well for the future of an embattled industry. Chen noted traditional media enhanced their coverage by the use of social media, still images and video shot by news organizations and amateurs, and apps, such as Hurricane Tracker, to help people decide whether to evacuate, and what routes were safe.

"The mix of media offered me — who had just moved to hurricane country three weeks before the storm — a media experience that I’d argue would be unmatched in the old days of print, TV, and radio," Chen argued.

Hurricane Isaac also proved troublesome for a number of news organizations. The massive storm forced television news organizations to juggle assignments for their star reporters who would have normally stayed in Tampa, Florida, to cover the Republican National Convention, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The storm, which hit Louisiana seven years almost to the day Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, tested the hometown Times-Picayune, just weeks before cutting back its production schedule and merging its print and digital newsrooms.

The New York Times reported that the Times-Picayune ably covered Isaac because staff cutbacks had not fully taken effect yet, and this storm was not as severe as Katrina. However, "glitches" occurred because the print operation and the website, Nola.com, were housed in two separate buildings. No power in the print newsroom forced journalists to use their own cellphones and email to report the news.

Nevertheless, a spokesman for Advance Publications, which owns the newspaper and the website, said Nola.com attracted two to three times more traffic during Isaac's four-day soaking of the area.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.