How I Used Instagram While Reporting On Garage Fires

28 Dec
December 28, 2011

Instagram is my new best friend in the field. It’s a basic iPhone app that shares photos and captions on a variety of social sites, including Twitter and Facebook (not to mention my fav, Foursquare). It allows me to share information and encourage viewers to tune in, with a few taps on my phone. And now I’m combining other editing apps to make my photos look even better.

Today was a perfect example of how I use Instagram in the field. My goal is to spark interest and start discussions well before the story airs. My updates mention my station, and if I know what time the story will air, I’ll mention that as well.

I drove up to Urbana, Maryland (in Frederick County) today to do a story about two garage fires that happened at the same time and within two blocks of each other. Fire damage is often a very visual scene. I snapped a picture with my iPhone camera, uploaded the photo to Camera+ and added some enhancements (brightening the photo and blurring the edges so people’s eyes would go straight to the burned out cars). Then I added the photo to Instagram and shared it on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Foursquare.

This was the caption (note the hashtags and “@” so people could easily search and reply): “This is one of two garage fires that happened in the same neighborhood last night. Story on @wusa9 #news #washingtondc #dc #fire.” At the end of the day, it had 179 “likes” and 17 comments on Instagram’s network.

As soon as I was done at this fire scene, I went around the block to the next. The next garage was full of debris. I added this caption: “Here’s the second garage destroyed by fire. Family’s son luckily had just taken car out to run an errand. #news @wusa9.” It got 158 “likes” and 9 comments on Instagram.

I’d like to grow those numbers and get more feedback during the day. Instagram is still pretty new, but it’s growing. There’s already 15 million people trying it out. I’m focusing on tracking my numbers there– but journalists have to remember it’s just one avenue. By connecting the app to several other social networks, it’s possible thousands of people will see it, and a small portion will comment or respond. Just because no one comments doesn’t mean they didn’t see it. So think of your Instagrams like a tease to your story. You don’t have to give everything away. And if you do– briefly explain why they should tune in for the full piece later that day.

In today’s case, people were commenting and asking whether it was arson. The Fire Marshall hadn’t said that until very, very late in the day. I was able to provide those updates on air, and by commenting on my own Instagram picture.

By the way– a lot of networks are hopping on this wagon, including ABC, NBC, and NPR, just to name a few.

9 replies
  1. Mary Conley Eggert says:

    I was just at a Kellogg marketing conference where they raved about Instagram as the next cool app. Thanks for this helpful and visual example. Looks like a roving reporter’s dream!

  2. Aimee Monahan says:

    This story sounded very similar to the one here in LA area regarding the German national setting fires in apartment building carports to protest the deportation of his mother. Why do people have to behave like this, so destructive. It’s especially worse during the holiday.

  3. OneFastGeek says:

    Nice article. I wish you reported in my area.

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  1. [...] from WUSA 9 reporter Lindsey Mastis, who explains the benefits of using Instagram on assignments: How I used Instagram while reporting on garage fires Burning through this notepad as the North Brentwood Town Council discusses the possibility of [...]

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