We began with an assignment: tell the story of what's happening in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Our objective developed out of the need to continuously inform people of what was happening on an island that was in the dark.
Millions of stateside Puerto Ricans were desperate for information, desperate to know if their relatives and friends were O.K. The story was too big to cover in 3 minute television packages. The morning and evening broadcasts weren't enough. Our digital network, CBSN, wasn't either. So, I picked up my phone and talked—before sunrise and long after sunset—whenever we confirmed new information. Using twitter and Facebook, my team and I quickly established ourselves as on-scene experts who didn't have all the answers, but who had the time, the energy, and the resolve to chase them. We tried to create a place where people knew they could come to find the very latest on Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery.
I've spent my career trying to attract an online following, and this was the most organic result I've experienced. Content was king. We interacted with consumers in near-real time, using short videos to put them on the ground with us. When response was urgent, we used social platforms to call for action. A sick child who needed transport for treatment couldn't wait for the Evening News. Neither could an elderly woman looking for her daughter. Our strategy was to get information out rapidly and to do it in a way that Americans would be interested whether they had ties to the Puerto Rico or not. Our work was unique because we spent nearly two months total on the island, showing our audience what we saw each day.
At the San Juan Airport, we found residents laid out, sweating, crying, and pleading for water. We used Facebook as a tool to report and as a call to action—not because we're advocacy journalists, but because that was the right way to tell the story. We never crossed a line or acted as first responders. What we did, nearly every opportunity we got, was ask politicians how and when they would solve the problems facing Puerto Ricans.
On our way back to the hotel from the airport, we ran into Ricardo Rosselló, the governor of Puerto Rico. He had learned from our Facebook reports shortly before that the airport was still without water, and he put in a rush order. A bulk shipment of water bottles arrived within the hour.
Meanwhile, over the course of our coverage in Puerto Rico, my Facebook follower count grew from about 10,000 to over 350,000.
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