When disasters hit, news crews show up with reporters, photographers and satellite trucks. They report stories about human suffering and destruction, always with a predictable, formulaic approach. Then, after a few days, they move on to the next disaster du jour. For them, the story is over.
Natural disasters ravaged the Northeast region of the United States in 2011. Hurricane Irene not only wiped out roads, but severely damaged towns from New Jersey to Vermont. A freak Halloween snowstorm caused even more damage.
When the media stops its coverage of a disaster, it often creates a false impression that the suffering, damage and need for assistance has passed, that life is back to normal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As I write this, there are towns in New England still struggling to rebuild themselves. The fact that there is no longer media attention doesn’t help local and state officials make a case for assistance. The disaster is out of the media, and therefore out of the public’s mind. How can officials continue to secure much-needed help without sustained media coverage and awareness?
My counsel to such communities is this: Report your own news. Keep your story alive.
Tell your own stories through text and photos, and deliver your own news updates. There’s a good chance no one else will report your story unless you keep it fresh, timely and human.
Here’s how to keep your story fresh:
1. Register a domain name, such as <yourtown>news.org at Godaddy.com. This costs about $11 a year.
2. Get website hosting from a provider such as Hostgator for about $100 a year.
3. Enlist a local blogger to set up a news site using WordPress.org. WordPress is powerful, free and used by many mainstream news organizations. It won’t take more than a few hours to get your site online.
4. Use a professional-looking theme or template, such as those from Solostream.com.
5. Get an army of local residents to take digital photos and write news updates. Each story should be no more than about 100 words.
6. Learn to post stories and digital photos on WordPress. It’s easy, and there are many helpful how-to videos on YouTube.
7. Update the news site at least three times each week.
This news site will keep alive the story of a community severely damaged by natural disaster. It will be a valuable resource for local businesses and government officials to seek continued assistance. It will carry the message to Washington D.C., across the country, and around the globe.
In today’s media environment of celebrities, sound bites and a vaporizing mainstream news media, we must use the powerful online tools available to ensure that responsible news coverage can continue. Report your own news.