Hyperlocals Dig In as Sandy Bears Down on East Coast Communities

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From Cape May, N.J., up the Atlantic Coast to New England, hyperlocal news sites put on their slickers and boots to prepare for “perfect storm” Sandy. In many cases, hyperlocals have been in a better position to cover news in such weather conditions as they are unencumbered by needing to send out news crews and reporters, as was the case with Hurricane Irene last year.

We asked a few publishers what they have been doing today as they gear for more intense news around Sandy as the storm soon makes landfall along the eastern seaboard. Here’s what they said:

Liz George, owner, Baristanet in Northern New Jersey: We’re covering it pretty much non stop — facebook, twitter, posting. Readers are responding — about double normal traffic — and sending in pictures and intelligence. Right now we have power — but for a very long two minutes I did not. I have charged all devices (multiple) and have a portable mi-fi — so if there is service, I can still cover. Schools closures on our sister site Barista Kids have also been a big draw. Our coverage is always a little different – but we will cover small stories as well as provide news about bigger NJ picture.

Howard Owens, publisher, The Batavian in Batavia, N.Y.: We’ve been on top of storm coverage since Sunday afternoon, providing
all available information on the expected local impact. We’ve made sure we have everything we need to provide ongoing coverage throughout the storm. We’re not expecting this to be, in our area, anything other than a major storm, like we’ve covered many times. We’ll provide continual updates from the scanner and if there is a significant storm related event, Billie will handle the scanner duty and I’ll go out and cover it.

The only online and back channel discussion this morning deal with complaints/concerns that the city hasn’t done an adequate job of leaf pick up so far.

Mike Shapiro, founder, editor and publisher of the 15-site The Alternative Network in suburban New Jersey: “We’re doing story updates every 2-3 hours. To prepare, we emailed all of our reporters to send us updates and photos and also did the same for all of our advisory board members and licensees. We are also encouraging people to send us updates and photos through the site, Facebook and Twitter. We have a much larger presence on Facebook than we did during Irene and we are also doing a lot more to get updates and photos from readers. Also, we are doing much more in terms of story updates on the site.”

“Everyone is asking for storm updates since truly local information is hard to receive. We are covering everything from power outages to downed trees to announcements from the local and state governments to safety tips from nongovernmental organizations and local businesses. We just got information that the whole south side of Madison is now without power. And Milburn has lot a couple of streets. Really trying to provide our readers with all the information they need to be safe and stay informed.”

Anthony  Duignan-Cabrera, editorial director of the AOL’s Patch sites in the eastern half of the U.S., said some sites were backstopping others that were hit by power outages. “We have sites in Suffolk County on Long Island, for example, making calls for sites in areas of Nassau that lost power,” he said.

Duignan said Patch was ramping up use of its live blogging tool — first used during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 — to connect users with the sites in real time during the crisis. In one case, he said, a user asked Patch, “Are there any bars still open in Brooklyn?” Patch was able to quickly respond — yes, Freddy’s Bar, in South Slope, on 5th Avenue, between 17th and 18th Streets.

Jim Welch, deputy town news manager of the Hartford Courant and CTNow.com: We are going town-by-town updating power outages, emergency shelters, and closings. Updating both web and mobile but also pushing stuff out on social media using Twitter and Facebook. We learned from Irene and a snow storm this time of year last year, that folks connect with us by surfing Facebook and Twitter on their mobile devices during power outages.

We are very committed to covering this national story in a real hyperlocal fashion. It’s a service we can provide to tell readers where they can go for help, if their kids have school tomorrow and what the utility companies are saying about restoring power.

We are soliciting reader submitted photos. I’d expect we’ll get more tomorrow after the sun comes up and the storm is over. We are making call outs on Twitter and Facebook for folks to tell us how conditions are in their town. We also introduced a new hyperlocal MyTowns App with a ReportIt ugc tool to send us photos and brief descriptions.

Howard Lerman, CEO, Yext: We are seeing all kinds of changing hours and inventory location updates in Yext! (via Twitter)

Karin Annus, Chief Content Officer, Daily Voice: Our aim is to give our residents real-time news and information about the storm; during its approach, when it hit, and when it leaves the area. Our reporters filed hourly updates about power outages and linked to the electricity provider’s outage map.  They took as many photos as they could and solicited resident photos.

We sent two reporters out of the area so they could supplement our reporters on the ground. We will continue to write stories and updates for all of our sites even when our field reporters lose power and internet  (which currently is more than half). After the storm, we will post as much info as possible about damage, power restoration, wifi locations, where to get supplies, shelter, etc. We’re going til 10pm tonight and then starting again at 5am.

Is your hyperlocal site responding to the East Coast weather system?  Send us an email at [email protected], or leave an update in the comments. We’ll be adding more of your responses as we receive them.