Wobbling in the middle of a deserted intersection in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA, the distant figure of television journalist Ali Velshi appeared live on US news network CNN. It was October 28, 2012, and Velshi had been sent to report on Hurricane Sandy’s landfall. Instead, he was busy trying to stand up against the violent winds, while a studio anchor helpfully pointed out: “It’s incredibly dangerous where you are.”
As Hurricane Sandy swept homes into the Atlantic Ocean, such reckless and uninformative reporting became the butt of jokes on the Internet, where US authorities had already gone to spread more serious news about hurricane safety. The office of the mayor of New York tweeted information about emergency food distribution, while the governor of New Jersey took a more imperative tone: “Don’t be stupid,” he tweeted. “Get out.” More than 20-million Sandy-related tweets were sent that week.
But in countries where Internet penetration is low, social networks are even less useful than beachfront video for extreme-weather announcements. In Bangladesh, only five percent of the population has access to the Internet. Many rely on colorful, rickshaw-mounted megaphones for daily news like cinema screenings and prayer times. So when Cyclone Sidr approached Bangladesh in November 2007, more than 40,000 rickshaw drivers were mustered by the Red Cross to cycle through the country’s rural areas and call locals to shelter with their megaphones. By the time Sidr hit the coast, 2 million people were already safe.
From the pages of COLORS #86 - Making the News.