On Dec. 30, 2021, a grass fire swept through the foothills south of Boulder — fueled by vegetation left dry by a nearly snowless winter and abnormally high winds — and within hours destroyed more than 1,000 homes in suburban Louisville. As the fire burned, The Colorado Sun’s journalists were on the ground in and around the area, while on social, our producers relayed and collected firsthand accounts and answered questions from desperate readers
This entry shows how The Sun utilized social media at every stage of the disaster by using each platform’s native features to prioritize information followers needed for their own safety, answering readers’ direct questions and eventually providing context to understand the issues after the dust settled.
Twitter: The Sun created several master Twitter threads to silo rapidly changing information about evacuations, government orders and other details while making sure outdated information could not be removed from more up-to-date context.
Instagram: As the fire came under control, The Sun used Twitter and especially Instagram’s story Q&A feature to collect questions directly from our followers and answer them on the platform they were asked, thus minimizing the friction between readers and vital information.
Facebook: In the immediate aftermath, The Sun assembled a large Facebook photo album with heavily contextualized captions to give readers the true scope of the devastation and coordinate relief efforts.
Reddit: As our reporting continued and we gained access to recordings of emergency service radio, we used the geographical locations mentioned in the calls, Google Earth Studio and the radio audio itself to construct a video showing the speed and location of the fire’s spread. And while the video was posted in a standard article, we also chose to upload the full video directly to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Our Reddit post went viral well outside of Colorado and the users who watched it provided invaluable feedback on what they appreciated about this approach — and how they’d improve it for future breaking news events.
The Online Journalism Awards™ (OJAs), launched in May 2000, are the only comprehensive set of journalism prizes honoring excellence in digital journalism around the world.