#Memstorm: Twitter as a Community-Driven Breaking News Reporting Tool

I’m working on a new study that I will be presenting at the 2012 International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas. I welcome feedback and participation and hope to share the results when completed.

This study aims at an in-depth exploration of how citizens and journalists in Memphis have come to utilize Twitter and the hashtag #Memstorm as a collaborative breaking news reporting tool when severe weather hits the region.  It examines some of the factors that motivate public participation and looks at how this new, always-on community-driven communication system – what scholar Alfred Hermidahas called “ambient journalism”  – is affecting local journalism, building on previous theory and research revealing how social media has helped make the news process increasingly participatory. I hope to show how Memphians are building community online and playing a role in sharing information vital to public health and welfare.

In addition to content/textual analysis of all Tweets archived from last April’s major storms, I’m also conducting a survey and doing a few interviews with particularly active local weather Tweeters as well. You can take my survey here, or if you are interested in being an interview participant, please email me at carrielisabrown@gmail.com or leave a comment here.

If you’ve never heard of the #memstorm, you can learn a little bit about it from local entrepreneur and CEO of startup StiQRd Aaron Prather’s Ignite Memphis talk last year.

Here’s an excerpt from my paper abstract that also gives some background: In the late winter and early spring of 2011, a series of powerful storms pounded Memphis, Tennessee and the surrounding region, driving residents not only to their television sets but to their Twitter streams for the latest information on funnel cloud sightings, flash flooding and power outages. Sirens blared and people huddled in basements and bathrooms off and on for two days, but when all was said and done Memphis was relatively lucky; the same system of storms caused much more extreme damage and loss of life in Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

While wild weather with torrential rain and tornados are not unusual in the Mid-South, the ability to both access and contribute to another real-time source of information in addition to the venerable local television meteorologists and other traditional news outlets is a relatively new phenomenon that exemplifies the participatory, two-way power of today’s digital tools.  Community members converged around the hashtag #Memstorm to share information, photos, and video on the storm and interact with others;  according to data collected by Prather and referenced here by Amy Howell of Howell Marketing, at the height of the storm, #memstorm impressions reached 1.4 million, with over 200,000 Twitter accounts being reached;  0.01 percent of all tweets on Twitter were being tagged with #memstorm.

You can read the full abstract here.




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