Breaking news coverage changed on 9/11

plane into world trade centre

Here’s why the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America changed how I produced breaking news coverage. I had no choice because events were happening so fast in the time span of one hour and 42 minutes. We were becoming overwhelmed with each attack on America.

  • It started with the first plane hitting the South Tower of New York City’s World Trade Center at 8:46am
  • Seventeen minutes later a second plane crashed into the North Tower at 9:03am
  • Thirty-four minutes later a third hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC at 9:37am
  • Twenty-two minutes later the South Tower started to collapse at 9:59am
  • Four minutes later a fourth hijacked plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field
  • Twenty-five minutes later the North Tower started to collapse at 10:28am

SteveKowch_blog_img_long_versionIt never stopped! We never had a chance to catch our breath and digest what was happening. Producers, hosts, anchors and ops had covered their share of multiple death disasters but nothing prepared them for their role on that day.

I reassured everyone that we covered these kind of stories in the past. We covered plane crashes, highrise building fires and multiple deaths. Maybe not as many on one day as we were dealing with on September 11, 2001, but we had covered these kind of stories before.

And that’s when it hit me.

The only way to get through this was to focus everyone on the most important question I now ask during breaking news coverage.

What are we missing?

Every 10 or 15 minutes I called a quick huddle of everyone working on the story. Producers, hosts, board operators, news people and anyone at the station watching it unfold on television or listening to our coverage on the radio.

What are we missing?

This focused everyone on the coverage. Everyone had an equal say on the matter because everyone sees or hears things differently. Everyone has their own ideas of what we did, didn’t do or should do.

What are we missing?

Our people are the most important resources and when all hell breaks loose you need to tap into all their thoughts and ideas to refocus what you’re doing every 10 or 15 minutes so you don’t miss anything.

What are we missing?

This provided everyone an opportunity to take a deep breath. To collect their thoughts. To speak their mind. To work as a team.

What are we missing?

By asking the question we got answers that generated ideas to do the following things in our breaking news coverage:

  • Book expert guests who could answer the questions that needed to be answered
  • Steer our reporters to seek out information we thought was missing
  • Focus on air hosts to provide further explanation of what was happening
  • The rebroadcast of interviews, eye witness accounts or reporter updates in the field to put the story in context for people just tuning in to the broadcast
  • Provide a local angle or local reaction to the events that were unfolding in the U.S.
  • To provide international reaction to the terrorist attacks
  • To open the lines to let listeners react because it was important for people to express their emotions about what they were hearing on the radio or seeing on television.

What are we missing?

It’s a questions that works on big stories and small stories. It works because no one can think of everything on their own. Especially during breaking news events while you’re live on the air.

What are we missing?

Allows your team to step back for a 30,000 foot view of the coverage and discuss what is missing, what do we need to do next or ask questions like “maybe we should play that interview we had an hour ago for people just tuning in to our coverage?

What are we missing?

Nothing – if you make the question part of your breaking news coverage plans. It has become the most important question I ask during breaking news coverage. If you’re the host, the reporter, the producer, the operator, the anchor, the Program Director, the News Director or the General Manager; you need to ask yourself and people around you what are we missing every 10 to 15 minutes.

Now is the time to draw up breaking news coverage plans for your radio station. kowchmedia can help with those plans and coach your staff. Call Steve for a free consultation at 647 521-6397 or email steve@kowchmedia.com