National Weather Service as Gatekeeper: Social media posts by local news outlets and NWS New Orleans during the February 2017 tornado outbreak
Jeremy Shermak, School of Journalism, Moody College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
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Abstract
Scholars and practitioners have studied at length the use of social media in the dissemination of weather information. As social media tools and audiences evolve, continued investigation of this topic is important in evaluating the effectiveness of social media as a means to warn citizens of potentially dangerous weather.

This study will advance existing scholarship by analyzing the timing and content of Twitter and Facebook posts by local media outlets and the National Weather Service’s New Orleans office during the February 7, 2017 tornado outbreak. As weather information has grown online, so has the need to recognize the way social media users and curators integrate information from authoritative sources, such as the National Weather Service. Drawing on gatekeeping theory and crisis communication modeling, this study will examine social media activity by local news outlets (including radio, television, and newspaper sources) before, during, and after NWS New Orleans-issued tornado warnings on February 7, 2017. The purpose of this study is to gain better understanding of the way local news sources integrate official sources, such as the NWS, into their social media coverage during a severe weather event. Do news outlets take “cues” from the NWS in providing instructions to viewers? What kind of information is being shared on social media within the duration of a tornado warning? Where do the NWS and local media fit in traditional crisis communications modeling? The goal is to offer insights on the way local news outlets and official sources unite to efficiently and effectively disseminate information during weather crises.