Wednesday, September 28, 2005

BLOGS/NEWS: Rita Pushes Blogs, Podcasts and Rich Maps Onstage
Posted: Sept. 27, 2005 at MIT Technology REview

HEADLINE: Rita Pushes Blogs, Podcasts and Rich Maps Onstage

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

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

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.

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