New Media: Grabbing facts, like kids in a bran tub

Making sense of the tsunami isn't helped by having 30 million web pages to call up. By David Randall

On the seismograph of importance, the problems of journalists covering disasters rightly register some way below the mark made by a passing flea. But, sooner or later, someone in our trade has to address a phenomenon that has been developing for some time, but which was made jarringly apparent by the Christmas tsunami: the explosion of news sources created by the internet.

For 20 years I've helped cover many major stories, and never before have I felt that conventional journalism barely scratched the surface of the available information. This time, I did.

There was a stupendous richness of material online. Virtually every government, aid agency, geophysical institute, NGO, and regional body in the world put up websites. Soon, tens of thousands of charities, churches, international bodies, and firms followed suit - as did bloggers, searchers, hospitals, survivors, the well-meaning, and assorted others. If you search "tsunami" on Google, there are now more than 30 million matches for the web.

Many of these contain good, even vital, information. But which? The sense that we are merely groping about, like children in a bran tub, grows with every zero added to the Google results. And it is but an exaggerated foretaste of the cacophonous future where anyone with anything to say will be in with a shout.

May we suggest that one of our university journalism departments (which, mentally, are stuck in the hot metal era) might start the research that could come to our rescue?

David Randall is an assistant editor of 'The Independent on Sunday' and the author of 'The Universal Journalist' (Pluto Press)