Hi, I'm Ben Hazell. I used to blog here about the media, but now I work there I don't write here anymore.
I'm the Web Publishing Editor at - I find better ways to tell stories, developing tools, training and practice for journalists.

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The Blog

Rarely updated now, used during Journalism MA at the University of Sheffield.

Rumbling landscape, rolling news

Wednesday, 27 February 2008
Ian & Vix, Hallam FM: 1.36am
"We're getting more information in at the moment from e-mails than from the newswires"
"This is when the geeks out there come in really handy!"

Last night my reading was rudely interrupted by an Earthquake.

For the first second I assumed the noise and movement were just another of the huge gusts of wind that had been hitting the house all day. When it continued for a few more seconds I decided it must be a nuclear attack. I've seen Threads, I know how it goes down. Next I realised it was an earthquake.

Having never experienced any kind of quake before I wanted immediate information about what had happened. I turned on the radio by my bed to discover Radio 4 playing the national anthem, which seemed to confirm my first suspicion about nuclear war.

Then I remembered that they always do this at 1am. When the World Service failed to mention the quake I went hunting for local radio stations.

Hallam FM seemed to have the only real coverage I could find in the immediate aftermath; the late night phone-in DJs had staying in past the end of their show after they felt the quake and were flooded with calls. I tuned in in time to hear them reading out the Wikipedia entry on Earthquakes.

15 minutes after the quake BBC Online had nothing, Sky News had nothing, but local radio and Sheffield Forum had been broadcasting and publishing within seconds of the event. TalkSPORT radio had calls coming in from all over the country, helping to rapidly establish the size of the affected area and indicate the level of damaged caused, all before the new-sites had any mention of the event.

By half one the news-wires were reporting what proved to be reasonably accurate information about the strength and epicentre of the quake. But again, Hallam FM had got there first after someone e-mailed them with a link to the Global Seismic Monitor.

It occurs to me that the central networks were slow to react because they are all based in London, where few had felt the quake. When Sky did report it, they placed the epicentre at Hull, leading the local radio host to observe that this was the only place nearby they'd heard of. Local radio was instead able to provide the exact latitude and longitude of the epicentre, as well as describe the location in relative terms, letting me know it was 50 miles East of Sheffield. There was also sniggering on the radio, from the hosts and callers, that the event probably wouldn't make the papers, being so far from London. I'm not sure that's fair, but the event did demonstrate that the London media groups simply wern't nimble enough in covering this to satisfy the audiences need for information.

Anyway, congratulations citizens, you beat the journalists on this one, with networked coverage, distributed research and a great deal of idle speculation.

/ aside: I also took a rough note of what each radio caller said they initially thought had happened. Oddly, the most callers said they suspected a poltergeist was disturbing the room.

The rest were evenly split between suspecting an intruder, a gas explosion, them next door, or the police helicopter flying low. I can't say the helicopter sprung to my mind, but I know what they mean. Only one caller smugly pointed out that it had to have been a quake, because "it was a circular shaking, not like a shockwave!"

One caller even phoned in nearly an hour after the event to report that her house had been shaking. Now why was she calling a radio station that was supposed to be off air, an hour after the event, to report something she'd have known about if she was even listening to the radio. Very odd, but I guess being woken up like that can be disorientating.


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