In late April, an explosive fireball rocked BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig, causing it to collapse into the Gulf of Mexico. As flames erupted from the water's surface and thousands of gallons of crude oil began gushing into local fishing waters, Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) found itself face-to-face with a problem every PBS station should be prepared to solve: How can public media outlets quickly serve their communities during regional times of crisis?
Within hours of the incident, LPB was wielding the power of the Internet to quickly assemble Crisis in the Gulf, a website that provides users with up-to-the-minute information about the oil spill and its cleanup. Shortly after the site went live, the SPI team spoke with Jeanne Lamy, the Web Project Manager at LPB, to learn how her team was able to construct the site so quickly. The project, Lamy explained, combines "the mashable basics: Google mapping, Youtube for appropriate video playlists, Flickr for images, and Twitter for brief updates and retweets." The site uses multiple RSS feeds as building blocks to instantaneously aggregate information from across the Internet.
However, with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill well into its third month, the Crisis in the Gulf project has evolved into an even more powerful information tool. LPB recently launched an updated version of the site that presents extended information within a more accessible design. RSS feeds incorporated into the site are automatically updated and supplied with new content from NPR, Louisiana's Office of the Governor, and LPB's own programming and production departments.
Since the effects of the oil spill are being felt along the Louisiana coast now more than ever, LPB is also working hard to keep its community informed through social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. "Timely information is crucial, especially in storm season," explains Lamy. Her team has been using social media as a tool to facilitate ongoing conversations amongst members of the Gulf community.
If your station finds itself seeking to fulfill a similar community need, RSS feeds and social media integration can facilitate quick and efficient site construction. Thanks to feed aggregation, powerful sites can be constructed and maintained easily without having to expand station web teams. However, Lamy encourages stations to "Decide carefully which sources you will use based on accuracy and reliability. Choose feeds that contain the most pertinent data for your state or region."