If there was still any debate about whether serious photojournalism can take place in the context of camera phones and hipster retro filters, it’s over now.

In an interview on Foliomag, Time magazine photography director Kira Pollack explains how she mobilized staff on Instagram because of the platform’s “speed and reliability” throughout their coverage of Hurricane Sandy slamming the East coast this week.

“Tthe decision was really based on speed,” she says, admitting that Time staff was seeing the images at the same time their audience was. “We knew that power was going to be out, that the storm was coming very fast, and we wanted to get the pictures out as quickly as possible and as directly as possible, and we thought Instagram was a great platform to do that. We could send a number of photographers out with their regular cameras, but they would have to come back, upload the pictures, send them-we just didn’t know what the state of power was going to be, where they were going to be, how much water was going to be around.”

The magazine commissioned five professional photographers–Michael Christopher BrownBenjamin LowyEd KashiAndrew Quilty and Stephen Wilkes–renowned for their work with cellphone cameras to get out ahead of the storm and start covering the preparations within their communities (New York City, the New Jersey coastline and southern Connecticut). The whole project came together in about an hour on Monday morning, according to Pollack.

The response from the public was overwhelming, Pollack says, as the images went viral and became some of the most iconic of the storm.

  • Time’s Instagram account had gained over 12,000 followers since coverage started on Monday
  • Tuesday was the fourth best day for Time.com web traffic this year
  • Thirteen percent of that traffic ended up on the Sandy gallery

Time magazine is clearly standing behind Instagram photography, as 57 of the images have been uploaded into a slideshow on Time’s photo page, LightBox, while several of them-including the cover image for the Northeast distribution area-will also be repurposed for the upcoming print issue of the magazine on sale today.