Posted in Innovation, journalism, Social Media

Global Is The New Local: The 2011 Japan Earthquake & Social Media

By Andrew Humphrey, CBM
Founder & Co-Chair, NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force
Meteorologist & Station Scientist, WDIV-TV &

My goodness! Friday, March 11, 2011 was an amazing day in weather, earth science and humanity! On WDIV’s Local 4 News Morning it was all snow, all earthquake, all the time! Locally, Detroiters woke up to 3 to 6 inches of fresh snow with numerous school closings and traffic accidents. Internationally, Japan had a catastrophic 8.9 earthquake and an ensuing tsunami, killing hundreds of people, and the story was still unfolding on the air. As a meteorologist and station scientist, I was beside myself trying to fit following the snowfall and getting a fresh perspective of the story in Japan to our audience on TV and the worldwide web. Social media empowered me to do it.

While tracking our snowstorm, I regularly tweeted Detroit-centric advisories and warnings to keep people informed and safe. Our Local 4 News Morning Traffic Producer, Khary Jones Hobbs (Twitter ID: RufioJones) is someone I “follow,” and he tweeted the following around 5am:

RufioJones@RufioJones RufioJones
Prayers to Japan. I have several homies out there. I hope you all are okay.

So I replied:

Andrew Humphrey

AndrewHumphrey Andrew Humphrey
@RufioJones Who are your homies? What are their SKYPE IDs?

I told him about the reply, too, and said his Japan-based buddies should safely email their names and Skype IDs to the station. After Khary got on it, one of his Twitter buds, rjbass73, responded. Turns out his name is Reggie Austin and he’s a musician, born and raised in Detroit and living in Tokyo. My newsteam got a hold of him and we did a live Skype with him on television during our 6am hour just before the Today Show. He gave a riveting account of survival and let everyone know he is well but remaining alert for future quakes and tsunami threats.
Simultaneously, I did hash tag searches (#earthquake, #tsunami, #japan) for more survivors who could Skype later in the day. Kunio Nakajima and Alan Margerison responded and I referred them to my friend & colleage, Local 4 News Morning Reporter Paula Tutman. She took the ball and ran with it, including them in her story called Social Media: Covering The Quake. Others were featured on the air and on through Saturday morning.

In addition, I went on Facebook and said:

Andrew Humphrey To my Facebook buddies in Japan, East Asia, Australia & New Zealand! Where are you? Are you affected by the earthquake/tsunami? Any watches or warnings? Email me at

Here is a comment I received:

Friday, 3/11/2010 at 11:38am

When I informed my teammates, they added Michael to the list of other Motor City Area people anxiously waiting for their family members, loved ones or friends from the Toyko-Detroit flight at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The result was an excellent collection of stories by Local 4 News Reporters Lauren Podell, Rod Meloni and Mara MacDonald that aired after my shift from 4pm to 11:30pm ET.

The responsible use of social media has the same power as an earthquake, a tsunami or any natural disaster. It shows that we are all one family. All of us are connected. Global stories become local, affecting the human heart, mind and spirit.



Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

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