TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Rita Pushes Blogs, Rich Maps to Forefront

Rita Pushes Blogs, Rich Maps to Forefront

Anick Jesdanun (
Sat, 24 Sep 2005 13:08:17 -0500

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer

As Hurricane Rita approached, editors at the Houston Chronicle decided
to experiment: They hand-picked about a dozen Web diarists and asked
them to post regular dispatches on the newspaper's online blog -- all
without any editorial intervention.

"One of the benefits to blogs is that they tend to be more personal,
they tend to provide more the emotional feel of an event," said Dwight
Silverman, the Chronicle's interactive journalism editor. "In
traditional reporting you put on your poker face and do your
writing. ... It's not supposed to be the writer's emotions."

The Chronicle set up a second blog for its own staff writers -- this
one edited -- to post anecdotes and other info before they appeared in
any stories, print or online. And science writer Eric Berger devoted
his regular blog, SciGuy, to the storm.

Besides the Chronicle's blogs, Web surfers were able to get firsthand
accounts Friday through podcasts and photographs. They could track the
storm using Google-powered maps. And they could find housing and other
emergency information from government and private Web sites.

At the Chronicle's citizen-contributed blog, Stormwatchers, one
participant talked of being packed and ready to evacuate, while
another wrote of the calm before the storm: "Our dog is happy, running
around the yard, and having fun."

Silverman said the newspaper picked experienced bloggers from the
region, voices it expected would be civil, lively and informative.

"We had been looking at doing more of these kinds of things, and this
seems like a perfect venue for this kind of experiment," he said. "One
of the nice things about the Web is if it didn't work, if it descended
into babble, we can turn it off. So far it's been valuable."

At The Wall Street Journal's Web site, News Tracker summarized the
latest developments in a blog format -- reverse chronological
order. The site, re-activated after an initial 12-day Hurricane
Katrina run, even links to resources at other news sites -- something
common in blogging but still rare for traditional media.

Meanwhile, Russell Holliman and a few fellow podcasters from Houston
decided to combine the emerging audio-distribution format with
traditional Internet radio.

They established a live streaming feed called RitaCast and made
arrangements to produce a new personal audio dispatch every hour, each
about 20 minutes long. The group was even trying to take calls from
listeners -- something rare with podcasts.

Each dispatch was packaged into an MP3 file and distributed as a
podcast through Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes and other networks that
automatically distributing free audio subscriptions.

"It really just did start out as a technical experiment," Holliman
said. "We wanted to see if it can be done. It introduces a new format
for podcasts where people can actually get the live interaction with
the listener."

Some Texas newspapers, including the Corpus Christi Caller-Times,
suspended their print editions and turned to the Internet
instead. Others, including the Victoria Advocate, asked readers to
submit photographs for online posting.

Visitors to could track the movement of Hurricane Rita
on a map, the colors of the markers changing from green to red as the
storm intensified. The site combines Google Inc.'s mapping tools with
data from the National Weather Service.

The site's administrator, Mike Cornelius, has software to automatically
pull latitude and longitude coordinates from the government advisories.

Resources set up for Hurricane Katrina also have been adapted for Rita.

Among them:'s Web site for connecting refugees with those
who have housing to spare.

On the Net:

Rita map:
MoveOn project:

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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