If there is a natural disaster, storm, traffic accident, fire, lost pet or missing child in the Garden State, chances are the details are posted on Justin Auciello’s Facebook page, Jersey Shore Hurricane News.
Auciello, who earned his master’s degree from the university’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Policy in 2005, started the page just before Hurricane Irene slammed the state in August 2011.
After that storm, his page had 27,000 users. Instead of shutting it down once the hurricane blew over, Auciello kept Jersey Shore Hurricane News alive and expanded its coverage beyond natural disasters, using tips, photos and messages from the site's fans to report on the state’s other major happenings in real time.
"The Internet continues to democratize media," he said. "People are realizing they do have a stake in news reporting and are willing participants in the process."
After Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast on Oct. 29, 2013, the site was thrown into another stratosphere, and now has more than 200,000 users.
When he’s not working full time as an urban land consultant or surfing near his South Seaside Park bungalow, Auciello is vetting, verifying and posting news that his users share with him. The White House has recognized him with a Champions of Change citation for his efforts in disseminating information during the Sandy and now has a grant from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to turn the Facebook page into a mobile app. It's the first time the site has had any kind of funding.
"There are a lot of news apps out there, but they're really top down and don't ask you to provide any input," said Auciello, who plans to create a smooth interface that allows users report what they're seeing. He hopes the site also will be able to use a phone's GPS to send push notifications, alerting users to events happening where they are located at that moment.
When Auciello started Jersey Shore Hurricane News, it wasn't exactly on a lark. He used the Internet for the first time in 1992 at Alexander Library, where his father – also a Rutgers alum – would take him to research school reports. Auciello was 12 years old.
"It was a text based Internet with no graphical interface," he said. "I thought 'Oh wow this is so cool. I can type in something and I'll get all this information back.' " When social media emerged, Auciello jumped into th that world, starting his own blog to and exploringe the then new concept of citizen journalism. If you had a camera phone and a mobile Internet connection, you could report the news happening right in front of you. Jersey Shore Hurricane News ties all that information together within the context of one state. Auciello can report more simply thanks to volunteer-provided the information.
"That's not to say that mainstream media ignores people, but ultimately stuff happens all the time that you don't hear about on the news," he said. "There is no picking up the phone and saying 'Hey what happened today.' I'm not putting together a police blotter. This is the people reporting what's happening."
And in New Jersey, Auciello's page is one of the portals through which they report it.