From social media to news service: Jersey Shore Hurricane News charts new course

Jersey Shore Hurricane News was born during Irene but came of age during Sandy.

“I had no idea that it would grow into this,” said Justin Auciello, the man behind the popular Twitter and Facebook feeds.

Auciello began aggregating news stories and information about Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and very quickly found a following. Within one day, he said he had 1,000 followers.

Currently, Jersey Shore Hurricane News has nearly 200,000 “likes” on Facebook and over 4,600 followers on Twitter. In addition to covering weather events, JSHN has expanded to cover a wide variety of “news you can use,” often sharing information on missing persons, traffic updates, and Sandy rebuilding progress, among other topics.

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From the beginning, Auciello found a niche by drawing on information from those followers, who he refers to as contributors.

“What separates Jersey Shore Hurricane News from the rest of the pack is that this is citizen-run outlet,” he said. “I really want to keep that going.”

But he said he’s also developed a network of sources – “police, fire, EMS” – that he also relies on for information, creating a hybrid journalism model that’s part traditional reporting, part crowd-sourcing.

Those two worlds met during Superstorm Sandy, when Auciello said people trapped on the barrier islands began posting their locations on his Facebook page and the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management distributed that information to rescue personnel.

When the phone networks and 9-1-1 systems in the hardest hit areas were overwhelmed during the storm, people turned to social media, explained Mary Goepfert, an OEM spokesperson.

In addition to OEM’s own Facebook page and scanning Twitter, staff in emergency operation centers checked JSHN’s feeds.

“We monitor the Jersey Shore Hurricane News because they have so many followers,” said Goepfert. “We look for trends or misinformation or, to get information out, I’ll leverage his followers.”

In the days following the storm, Auciello and his contributors posted where people could find supplies that were in short supply – food, gas, water.

“Even though I’m operating in social media, but the difference is all the information is organized,” Auciello said – unlike simply trying to search for information online or through a Twitter hashtag.

What started as a hobby has grown into an increasingly time-consuming vocation. Though JSHN currently does not bring in any revenue, Auciello hopes that will soon change. He’s seeking a grant to build a website and mobile application. He would eventually like to hire additional staff.

In the meantime, he’s a team of one, posting updates while working fulltime as a city planner.

“I guess people could call me a citizen journalist since I’m not employed by a professional news gathering organization,” he said.

But despite the many disparate sources of information he posts, Auciello is adamant that he vets all stories and photos before posting.

“I’ve never published anything erroneous since I’ve been operating the service,” he said. “I certainly adhere to extremely high ethical standards and that will never change.”

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