Storyful Blog

Moving targets: How video of Sandy tells its own story

You’ve seen the images: the bleak, dramatic, rain-soaked and sepia-toned shots of dark skies over New York city as Sandy hit the US East Coast. Instagram went into overdrive as the largest tropical system on record made landfall on Monday night, with people sharing their shots of rising waters, damaged buildings and empty streets.

But Sandy is a storm, a moving, howling force that cannot be pinned to a still image. And this is where video comes into its own, where the full fury of Sandy’s violent winds and pelting rains becomes apparent. It’s one thing to see a photograph of the destruction wrought and understand the aftermath, but it’s another experience entirely to watch a house in the process of slipping into the water in Rodanthe, North Carolina as it’s pounded by furious waves:

There are reasons why video can sometimes take a backseat at a moment like this. A video requires a time commitment: it takes a second or two to register an image, scan and move on, but a video needs more, requiring precious moments of viewing to understand its import. But those moments can pay dividends, telling a story of real value and driving home the reality of Sandy, unfiltered:

Each video of the hours upon hours that have been uploaded since Sandy hit tells a story. Every one is a personal glimpse through the lens of somebody – often just a citizen with a camera – who’s there. And though they are behind the camera, they’re often as much a part of the event as the devastation they’ve been documenting:

And videos can bear witness to a moment, like that of a massive explosion at a Con Edison power plant in New York on Monday that plunged an entire neighborhood into darkness:

Or that when a building facade collapsed into a Manhattan street lined with firetrucks:

Curated, these videos can create a powerful narrative arc of Sandy’s path, collectively testifying to its sweep and force in playlists like the ones found here.  And their purpose is also archival, a lasting testament to the catastrophic weather that has already claimed dozens of lives, left millions without power, and is predicted to cost the US economy billions of dollars. Together, they are a map of Sandy’s path that takes the viewer behind the numbers to the reality of individual experience:

[The map above shows videos that have been verified by Storyful in partnership with YouTube as Sandy wrought havoc on the US East Coast. If you’d like to use it on your website, click here for the embed code]

In dramatic moments like this one, the volume of video presents its own challenges, however. Journalists – like us – are still experimenting with ways to present them as we learn about how audiences want to consume them, whether it’s geographically [see above] or chronologically [see below].

[The timeline above was created using the Knight News Foundation funded Timeline JS ]

It also bears repeating that, like photographs, videos need to be verified. In the rush to disseminate dramatic images – moving or still – it’s worth taking the extra moment to make sure that what you’re passing around really shows what you think it shows. [For tips on verifying videos, check out previous blogposts here and here].

But once such steps are taken, these videos can be a powerful storytelling tool, an audio-visual testament to a moment in history that translates each local experience for a global audience. As Sandy moves inland, downgraded to a storm, the areas affected count the toll. It has taken lives and left in its wake devastated landscapes, homes destroyed, buildings ravaged, streets flooded – and countless videos that document these moments. It’s up to news organizations and journalists – with context, curation, verification and narration – to shape their story.


2 comments on “Moving targets: How video of Sandy tells its own story

  1. Pingback: Tracking Hurricane Sandy via Social Media Data

  2. Pingback: Sandy: Crisis response | Social Sciences Librarian's Blog

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This entry was posted on October 30, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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