Cooper and I are excited about the Media Giraffe Project Conference that starts tonight at UMass in Amherst. We've been invited to speak about the Been There Clearinghouse and are on a panel tomorrow morning with Jon Donley who won the Pulitzer for the Times Picayune's online coverage of Katrina (remember Nola's heart-wrenching stories last September?)
We are incredibly honored to be on the podium with Jon. He kept us all glued to our computers with his first-person reports on the disaster as it unfolded. Not only did he take online reporting to a new stratosphere, with tens of millions of people around the world linking to his reports, but his Pulitzer was the first to go to news coverage that actually saved people's lives.
The topic we'll be discussing is "How Katrina Changed the News Ecology."
It was during Katrina that the one-to-one connection of the web effected disaster relief in a real way for the first time. People wanted to do more than give money. They wanted to help in a real way, person-to-person, giving something tangible to others who were in desparate need of help. Many people used Nola to do that. And they used the Been There Clearinghouse.
Over the last few days, Cooper and I have relived those late August and early September days last year when the disaster unfolded. How, as we screamed at our televisions because nothing was happening to save all the stranded people or New Orleans or the other towns that were hit, we went to Nola's website and saw people offering housing to people who had lost everything. How when we saw that, we realized that evacuees would have an address, even if only a temporary one, where they could receive donated goods and supplies.
Here's what we wrote on September 1:
Here at Been There, we want to establish a direct connection between those with things to donate and the people who need them.
To do that, we are setting up a clearinghouse for anyone who has toys, clothes or other supplies to send directly to families.
Here’s how it works. If you have something to offer, respond to this post with what you have (and please be specific, for example if you have toys, say for what age group, how many, what sort of condition they’re in). Families in need are invited to respond to your post directly.
And if you’re here because you have a specific need, and you don’t see what you’re looking for, please use the comment section to tell us a little about your story and your needs.
Here's the link to the original post, with all the trackbacks and hundreds of comments that came flooding in.
After the Clearinghouse took off, we started to hear from people who were helped. Both sides of the equation -- people who gave and people who received -- spoke of the impact of the personal connection.
From Toni: I just wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to voice my story and be heard. Words can't describe the immeasurable amount of love your site has shown me. Please continue to do for others what you have done for me, and one story at a time you will change some else’s life.
From Jodi: I felt so lucky to have someone contact me a few weeks ago who was interested in the list of things I had to pass along. Making that trip to the post office was a great feeling - but the thank you note that I received in return was and will remain incredibly special to me.
We're going to see some of our friends at the conference. Rosalyn Lemieux with MoveOn.org, who arranged for everyone who received housing from their site, hurricanehousing.org to be directed to the Clearinghouse, is speaking.
And we'll finally get to meet Meredith O'Brien, who's a DotMom with Cooper and whose writing we've followed for ages.
Anyone who's interested can follow the conference's happenings here.