News Column

US, World Media Focus on Sandy

Oct. 30, 2012

Andy Goldberg

It was called "Frankenstorm," "the Hurricane from Hell" and the worst storm ever to hit the United States, but for the US media, which had come close to exhausting every possible storyline about the impending elections, it was both a godsend and a nightmare.

For websites like The Huffington Post and Gawker, which went down when their New York hosting service was flooded, the monster storm was devastating.

But other media organizations, from the giants of TV broadcasting and web information to the tiniest of local papers and blogs, saw traffic surge as people looked for information, and more tellingly, dramatic pictures, wherever they could get them.

Newspapers splashed pictures of the storm on their front pages, though many subscribers on the East Coast were unable to get their copies due to storm disruptions.

The storm also dominated coverage around the world. From Britain's Guardian to El Pais in Spain and The Hindustan Times of India, the plight of the global city of New York prompted the kind of coverage that would normally be reserved for domestic issues.

TV crews did their best to provide viewers with shots from the eye of the storm. The airwaves were filled with images of reporters standing in knee high water as far as the eye could see as they surveyed the flooding from Atlantic City and other coastal spots. Some reporters braved blizzards to show viewers the scary conditions in West Virginia, while others were swept off their feet by huge storm surges.

One of the most enduring images was of a precariously balanced crane that towered above Manhattan, and which according to innumerable news anchors was threatening to come crashing down in the heart of the metropolis.

Though the crane had yet to fall to the ground by Tuesday afternoon, government authorities were eager to get people out of harm's way. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said efforts needed to be taken to secure it and noted the surrounding area had been evacuated to keep residents safe should it fall.

The damage was extensive and more than 30 people were confirmed killed. The New York subway system closed for the longest stretch in its 108-year history. Some 6 million residents were left without power. Damage estimates had climbed to around 20 billion dollars and some 80 homes had burned down in one New York neighbourhood.

Often the best pictures of the superstorm's impact came not from professional reporters, but from citizen journalists armed with nothing more than their smartphones and a semi-decent web connection.

These pictures spread like wildfire via websites such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Reddit. One popular image showed a family holed up in their suburban New Jersey home as massive trees snap like twigs and come crashing down on the street outside. Another video showed a massive explosion at a Manhattan power station.

Photo-sharing app Instagram, which was bought earlier this year by Facebook for 1 billion dollars, saw its users post more than 10 photos per second during the storm using the hashtag #sandy, with a total of over 521,000 photos of Sandy on the site. Twitter posted over 147,000 pictures in the 24 hours since the start of the storm.

Many of the images looked like something out of a disaster movie like the 2004 eco-disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. On the international Iranian news network the similarity was a little too close - the site used an actual still from the disaster movie to illustrate its story. Oops.

Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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