In the days before Hurricane Sandy hit the New Jersey shore, Justin Auciello was glued to his scanner. Auciello was monitoring social media, calling local officials, taking eyewitness reports from average citizens, and scouring every state emergency department website, the national weather service, and local county sites.
Every second and every minute of every hour, he watched and listened for the latest storm updates. Any new information he got, he posted to the Facebook news page he created, Jersey Shore Hurricane News (JSHN).
Auciello founded the Facebook page in 2011, just as another storm, Hurricane Irene, threatened the shores of the Mid-Atlantic. A lifelong New Jersey resident from South Seaside Park, Auciello says he “felt a calling to create a ‘pop-up’ news outlet in an effort to supply reliable, real-time news as well as serving as a platform for bottom-up reporting from users,” according to an interview with Philly’s Newsworks site.
It immediately caught on. Within days, JSHN’s following had grown to more than 25,000 users. And it wasn’t a one-way street. People were using JSHN to share the latest updates and get answers from each other about local street closures, flooding, power outages, and other weather-related issues.
But it was Hurricane Sandy that showed the real value of JSHN. Auciello worked around the clock, posting updates and curating content from his followers. Sandy’s wrath was considerable. The devastation was unimaginaeable. I can personally attest to that as a NJ resident myself.
For many on the Jersey shore left without power, JSHN was their sole source of information and communication about the neighborhoods they lived in. It continued to be a valuable resource for displaced citizens after Sandy.
Today, JSHN boasts 222,000 followers and counting. It’s not only hurricane news. Now, it covers local breaking news including traffic and, of course, weather throughout several NJ counties.
Remember, this is all being done on Facebook. It’s all operated by one man – Auciello, who happens to be a full-time urban planner. He doesn’t make money off of JSHN, although that soon may change thanks to grant money he’s secured.
Auciello also gets help from his loyal followers throughout the state — citizen journalists who feed him daily news reports and send on-the-scene images. Along the way, he’s discovered seven best practices for breaking news which he recently shared at the InnovateLocal conference:
- Always be ready.
- Your best reporting device is the one you’re carrying at the moment. The iPhone is a rock star.
- Get your reports out rapidly on social media. Brevity is golden. Be accurate and provide updates as the story develops. Shoot photos and video.
- You may not have time to produce a multi-paragraph story while reporting. Understand your limitations.
- Tap your social network.
- In a situation that’s close to your heart, don’t let emotions interfere with your reporting.
- It’s OK to take a quick breather. Drink water!
Auciello doesn’t have any formal journalism training. But his thirst for reporting the news drives him every day. In addition to Facebook, Auciello posts updates on Twitter at @JSHurricaneNews. His innovative approach to reporting using only social media has earned him national praise, including a Champions of Change award by the White House.
You can learn more about Auciello and Jersey Shore Hurricane News on www.justinauciello.com.
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Brett Savage-Simon is PR Newswire’s former director of audience relations and was a television reporter in her former life.