Today I would like to welcome guest writer, Avery Phillips to The Blogging 911. With all of the natural disasters this country has faced in the last few years, the need for citizen reports has increased with the use of technology. The balancing of news & compassion is a very thin line and she’s here to explain the best practices for citizen reporting.

An inordinate number of natural disasters have occurred in the past year, including wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes, and have created an intense need for reporters to cover the events of the affected areas. Journalists can help bring attention to stories of long-time residents displaced from their homes, occurrences of small incidents that could lead to larger problems if left unattended, and other incidents that leave people in need of help.

When disaster strikes, technology can help thousands of lives by allowing people to communicate. For example, millions of Tweets were posted about events such as Hurricane Sandy, and there is even a correlation between a higher number of Tweets and better aid. It can be difficult to find a journalistic approach when reporting on victims of natural disasters, but if approached correctly and tastefully, it can be beneficial to affected areas and for your blog. Here are some of the best practices for citizens taking on the endeavor.

Know Your Role

Covering the aftermath of affected areas is important to bring attention to victims and help provide them with aid, and it can also get more eyes on your website — but it can be difficult to undertake such a sensitive subject. There are a few key things to keep in mind when you find yourself reporting on a natural disaster.

The most important one is to keep yourself safe. There are enough people getting hurt or in need of help in disaster situations. Not only is it bad for you to be in a dangerous situation, there are likely already enough people waiting for aid. If you put yourself in danger, you are only making the problem worse. Remember, the main point is to help — not make the problem worse.

Similarly, respect for the community should be taken seriously; even volunteering in the wake of a natural disaster comes with pros and cons. You don’t necessarily need to get directly involved with relief efforts unless you have the capability to, but be aware of the emotional condition of those around you. Voyeurism in the wake of disasters harbors negative emotional impacts.

Blog With Compassion

While it’s not necessary to get involved with relief efforts, it is possible to provide support in simple ways that complement your mission. It is surprising how devoid of basic human understanding and sympathy people can feel in the wake of a natural disaster. As a reporting citizen, it’s part of your obligation to provide emotional support while getting your story.

While responders such as social workers play critical roles during disaster relief, all disaster responders themselves are in need of compassion and understanding themselves. They are likely to be relieved to have a conversation with a human being without a political or corporate agenda. Sharing a conversation with them may also be the key to getting a clear perspective of a local story or situation.

Another way to portray the events that are going on is through photography. Pictures can be a great way to tell a story without being presumptuous or creating any misconceptions. Though there are many ways to tell a story, you don’t necessarily need to use words to do so.

Get On Their Level

Coinciding with the ongoing natural disasters are the soaring costs of housing, healthcare, and everyday living expenses that have caused many Americans to live on the road in RVs. This has created another potential dilemma for victims, as it can be difficult to sustain living in RVs.

Besides there being intensive upkeep for RVs, such as RV winterization, natural disasters can be cause for more headaches to RV owners. For example, Hurricane Irma caused many RV park closures, essentially leaving residents homeless.

Perhaps the best way to get an authentic angle on a piece is to get the same perspective as those you are reporting on. One option to achieve this, if you plan on traveling to an affected area, is to travel in an RV. While this option may not be viable in all cases, such as going to an area with no open RV parks, it illustrates the point that putting yourself in victim’s shoes can be a great way to get an authentic story.

You can also look for business angles, like how to get your business back on track after a natural disaster. Of course, you will likely find your inspiration when you’re down there. Giving an authentic perspective is one great way to be shareable, as readers look for real content that goes beyond advertorial fluff and clickbait. Telling the human story and practicing compassionate listening can go a long way, not only for your site but also for the victims.

Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.


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