Citizen journalist

Citizen journalist

Tyler Suchman filled the information gap in the face of the oncoming Day Fire

By Saundra Sorenson 10/12/2006

Ojai resident Tyler Suchman served as an exhaustive resource to the Ojai community during the peak of the Day Fire. Suchman owns an internet consulting company, Tribal Core, as well as a collaborative network of Ojai-themed sites; notably Ojaipost.com, which became the primary source of information for many residents worried about the approaching fire.

Did you originally intend yours to be the go-to site for Day Fire updates?

Absolutely not. It basically took off when I covered the community meeting on [Sept.] 21, when the fire was looking more and more threatening. I was able to get one of the agency heads to mention the Ojai Post when he was talking about the Web resources that were available to the town, and from there it just took off. I was getting comments and e-mails and I realized people were really counting on the Ojai Post as a resource, and it evolved into an obligation where I felt I would really be letting people down if I didn’t keep it up. It really comes down to, ‘Do we have the ability to be there for the community in a time of need?’ and we were able to do so.

How much time, daily, did you spend focusing on the Day Fire?

For five days, I was working about 16 hours a day, so I essentially just put my business on the backburner and everybody was very accommodating. It originally started because I wasn’t able to find good information on what was going on, so I compiled it for myself and I started a Day Fire resource page which wasn’t really time sensitive — it was much more about all the places on the Web that would be useful for somebody looking to find information. During the peak of the fire, I was updating the post about six times an hour, and the more the site caught on the more I had citizen participation, and I would have people send me e-mails. I incorporated those, but at the same time I was careful not to post rumors or things that might frighten people, and I just tried to provide the best information I could for people that had to make tough decisions: Should I evacuate our family? Do I need to get the dogs out of here? What sort of protection do I need to make for my house?

Do you think local and mainstream media will improve, or do you predict that bloggers and citizen journalists will pick up the slack?

I think that there are certain limitations to traditional media being able to handle situations like this, and I think that traditional media tends to do what they do well, but they aren’t geared towards up-to-the-minute information distribution. I think the tools to build a Web site that incorporates from all different agencies, as well as grassroots participation, is something that needs to be architected and built out, and I’m looking into that.

Would you be prepared to do this again?

I would do my best. I realize that having a voice in the community means that certain responsibilities come with that. At the same time, I would love to see community leaders get together and spend some time and some money figuring out how we can build a Web-based infrastructure that meets the needs of the community.

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