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For disaster reporting – change your site template and turn on social media mode

October 24th, 2007Posted by in Online Journalism

The wildfires that are raging through California and have caused half-a-million people to be ordered from their homes have encouraged news providers to ditch their normal website formats and go into wholly innovative crisis-reporting mode.

Having a design format for breaking news that’s significantly different from the usual run of breaking news helps draw attention to the scale and importance of the story.

Cluttered websites like 10news.com and KNBC.com – Cory Bergman at Lost Remote points out – have failed to get over the magnitude of the events.

Adopting a unique layout for the home page – Corry adds – can also allow more content to surface:

“If you build a breaking news layout ahead of time, it’s not that much work to execute it when the story breaks. Just flick the switch. TV sites should own breaking news, and a flexible, content-driven design plays a big part.”

It’s something BBC News also does for big stories. It abandons the usual format of running a lead and to sub-lead stories, replacing them with a single large image to direct attention to a specific story.

Sites like the LA Times and MSNBC have adopted a similar approach for the fires. The Times has a photo gallery on its front page, along with links to its interactive maps, evacuation info and quick stats on the carnage the fires are causing.

Homepage design aside, devices for reporting the breaking news On The Fly have caused some news providers to ditch the usual tools and wing it with social media.

As we posted yesterday, radio station KPBS is using Twitter to do ‘Real-Time Updates’ on its website and to direct readers to local authority announcements, its Google Map of the fires, traffic updates and addresses for evacuation centres.

News 8, a CBS affiliate in San Diego, has even (thanks to Martin Stabe @ the Press Gazette for the point) taken down its normal website and replaced it with a rolling news blog, with links to YouTube videos and necessary/emergency information.

One of those uploaded videos is from journalist Larry Himmel, who reports on his own house being destroyed:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKGF2bbxQ6E]

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