FluPortal will be winding up as an active project at the end of March. So we’ve recently been trying to evaluate what the site has done well and what its shortcomings are — with the idea that FluPortal might be a model for future “crisis portals.” (You could imagine a generic CrisisPortal or something more specific like EarthquakePortal.)
A few days ago, I spoke with Katie Donnelly, Associate Research Director at American University’s Center for Social Media. Donnelly focuses specifically on the intersection of social and public media. She featured FluPortal a couple of weeks ago in a blog post and told me she feels it’s a “really good solid model” for helping pubmedia to report on crises. So I pushed her on what she really thinks — on what constructive criticism she might have.
Donnelly had two main recommendations.
First: She suggested encouraging more direct interaction among stations. This could happen in a forum on the site, for example, or in something like a webinar or an online chat. The idea here, she said, would be to “improve ways for stations to connect with each other” to share ideas about crisis coverage.
FluPortal did experiment early on with a Google Group for just this reason, but very few people signed up. Perhaps it was the wrong technology for convening pubmedia people — or perhaps it indicated that station staff are simply too busy for this sort of thing.
I also mentioned to Donnelly that the FluPortal blog was a possible place for stations to interact (in the comments section). She observed that for some reason pubmedia people very rarely seem to comment on blogs — that blogs probably aren’t the right place to persuade stations to talk to each other.
Second: Donnelly felt that FluPortal is “lacking first-person accounts” about H1N1. She suggested soliciting crowdsourced information and encouraging the general public to tell their swine-flu stories on the site. Donnelly understood that FluPortal is aimed at public media — and not at a general audience — but felt it could be a good place for reporters to make contacts with regular people who are part of the H1N1 story. She acknowledged, however, that any public forum on swine flu would require active moderation to avoid “propagating inaccurate information.”
During the FluPortal project, we’ve searched the blogosphere for good H1N1 stories but haven’t found much that stood out. (Most posts and tweets were of the “I’m on my couch and I feel terrible” variety.) For other types of crises, however — earthquakes or storms, for example — personal narratives offered up online might indeed be more provocative.
What would you add to Donnelly’s critique of FluPortal? And what improvements could you recommend for future crisis-reporting sites modelled on FluPortal? (If you prefer not to comment directly on this post, you can email us!)