Chat delivers online storm

WILD weather in southeast Queensland brought chaos and damage to residents, and record numbers of readers to the Courier-Mail’s website.

It was far from just bad news being good business for the newspaper. Rather than act solely as a teller of woe, the couriermail.com.au site carried some innovative functionality that helped readers communicate and assist each other throughout the crisis that struck earlier this month.

The website carried a Storm Chatter that allowed readers to post comments live in a chatroom format. This ongoing conversation formed part of a wider Wicked Weather In-Depth area, which contains stories, satellite images, forecasts and weather warnings.

At its traffic peak during the storms, the couriermail.com.au website experienced more than double the usual number of page impressions.

The Courier-Mail’s online editor, John Grey, believes this event showed newspapers, through their websites, can overtake radio and television as the most current source of useful information.

“We had readers on Storm Chatter saying their radio was reporting storms were 40 minutes away which were already hitting,” he said.

“The radio team would have to get the report, edit it, and wait until the announcer had time to mention it. We had live information.”

Readers were able to track storms from suburb to suburb in real time, giving each other warnings ahead of other media. One reader used the tool to ask whether it was safe to travel a certain route, with other users giving advice based on first-hand reports.

“There was a mixture of warm and personal conversation while remaining quite distant and anonymous,” Mr Grey said of the spontaneous online community of around 500 people. “It resembled the function of a tool like Twitter.”

Mr Grey said the chat was moderated at all times by at least one staff member, while other staff logged in as readers from home. The staff monitored the conversation but also contributed with useful data as it came to hand.

“We want to do more live chats in the future. You need an event with a critical mass of interest, that you can track as it is happening and that develops as you go.”

The Wicked Weather section is one of the couriermail.com.au’s In-Depth features – a dedicated area for specific topics of interest beyond the usual News, Business and Sport divisions.

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One Response to “Chat delivers online storm”

  1. Gaza conflict drives new media use « PANPA Digital Advisory Group Says:

    […] The development of new trends in communication is being accelerated by crisis events such as those aforementioned in the Middle East and India, and closer to home, Queensland’s wild weather late last year (as I discussed here). […]

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