Hero: A social media hero this week. On Wednesday afternoon as the monster cyclone Yasi began to bear down on the north coast of Queensland, a Twitter account called @cycloneupdate started tweeting live cyclone news from Cairns. The person behind @cycloneupdate, Cairns local and amateur weather watcher, Carl Butcher, was barricaded in his suburban Cairns home tweeting from beneath his dining table with a back-up power generator in the likely event that the power should fail. He rapidly gained followers as he provided live updates of the situation, links to the latest news and updates from the Bureau of Meteorology and called for, and then retweeted, updates from other affected areas. In an era when citizen journalism is growing and often a video shot hastily on a mobile phone by an on-the-spot passer-by provides the first coverage of a major event, Twitter is still evolving and creating space for itself in the world of instant information and communication. Carl’s nightlong reports, each of less than 140 characters as the medium requires, told a compelling story of the night Yasi came to town.
Villain: Just as natural disasters bring out the best in people, often they also bring out the worst. I don’t know about you, but I just find something distinctly distasteful about people who go out to profit directly from the misfortune of others. Yesterday morning on ABC Radio National’s rural show, Bush Telegraph, the host interviewed a banana grower from northern NSW. Unaffected by the cyclone and floods that have destroyed most of Queensland’s banana crop, this farmer was looking forward to being able to charge five times his usual market price for his bananas. Yes, there is going to be a severe shortage of bananas in coming months and yes, he has every right to charge whatever he can get, but there’s a fine (but very clear) line between market economy and looking forward to ripping people off. I particularly cringed at comments like (and I’m paraphrasing here): ‘they [the consumers] can just think of them like cherries – they pay $14, $15 a kilo for cherries and think nothing of it. No one thinks about the price of a mars bar or a can of coke, they just grab them and go’. Well, bananas aren’t cherries and I think most consumers are a bit more discerning than he is giving them credit for. I got the distinct impression that the radio host was as taken aback by this attitude as I was. I won’t name the guy, but the interview can be downloaded from the ABC RN Bush Telegraph site.