kowchmedia award winning breaking news coverage plans

10 things to do on the radio when breaking news happens

  • The need to be first does not outweigh the need to be right. It is better to be last and right than first and wrong when reporting someone has died. You don’t beat the competition by being wrong. You beat the competition when they’re wrong by being right. You do this by not feeding into social media rumours about someone dying. Treat social media postings as a tip to be confirmed before going on air with the information. No one remembers you were first. But they’ll never forget you were wrong. And remember what the producer on HBO’s The Newsroom told his boss who were pressuring him to report a politician was dead because all the other networks had killed her off prematurely.  A doctor pronounces someone dead. Not the news. It may be a pretend newsroom but that quote is worth posting up in the newsroom and studios of all radio stations.
  • When news breaks you need to let everyone not listening to your radio station at the time know what is happening. Social media should not be an afterthought anymore. It needs to be part of your plan to bring people to your station in time of breaking news coverage. If you don’t let the world know about your live breaking news coverage, you’ll only be talking to those who are tuned in at the time. Tell the world on Twitter and Facebook and invite them to listen online or to your radio station. Don’t and they’ll go to the other station doing a better job of promoting their breaking news coverage on social media.
  • Provide listeners with a reason to listen to your radio station.  What is the benefit of coming to you vs your competition. In times of disaster it is more than just telling people what happened. You create a benefit for coming to your media outlet by giving them information they can use to stay out of harm’s way or to help themselves. Figure out what you or your family would need to know if something like this happened in your listening or viewing area. Ask staff what kind of information they would need to get them through a hurricane, tornado, earthquake , major snowstorm or flooding because of severe rain storms. Then build that into your coverage plans.
  • In times of extreme emergencies the cellular phone networks crash under the crush of everyone calling family and friends to see if they are OK. This will create a major headache to have listeners or reporters call in with live updates. That is when you need to use modern technology like Skype. Reporters can use a Smartphone to dial your Skype line to get on air. (Battery powered laptops with access to WIFI can also log on to Skype). The public can call the radio station or TV station to go on air to report what they see via Skype. If your station doesn’t use Skype now, get your engineering department to hook you up. More importantly, have the engineers hook Skype up in master control so you can put people using Skype on the air. Don’t wait until something happens. Do it now while it’s still fresh in your mind.
  • Cellular phones may crash but texting will still work. It is a different server on the network. Make sure your station has a texting account to receive crucial updates from citizen journalists. Do it now. It takes time to set this up. You can’t do it at the last minute or during a natural disaster. Remember, if you have a texting network it works both ways. You can send your listeners/viewers text message updates including promoting upcoming coverage like a live press conference.
  • Create a “Go-Team” plan where you share human resources with sister stations in your company. This was a major initiative by US stations during Hurricane Irene to roll in reinforcements to load up personnel in major-news areas depending on the need. Sort of a mutual aid system like fire departments have with neighbouring communities. If your company has stations across the province start figuring out your mutual aid system now.  At the local level, if you have sister stations in the market, pool your on air resources to get get more boots on the ground. Have a game plan on what to do with the staff.
  • The number one mistake newsrooms make when breaking news happens is sending EVERYONE to the scene. But you need to also keep some people available to go to the hospital. Chances are by the time your news teams arrive on the scene, the injured have been transported to hospital for treatment of their injuries. You need someone to be at the hospital because this is where the victims can tell you their stories. Those with minor injuries will be released and available to talk.
  • What most news people don’t understand is that a lot of times people who were on the scene with the victims go to the hospital to be with them. Now you have an opportunity to interview eye witnesses who also know some of the victims. The hospital is where you will get accurate information about the number of injuries and fatalities from hospital officials. By splitting up your teams and sending them to different locations you will provide a more comprehensive sounding coverage for your listeners. This is what will set you apart from your competition. It will give you an edge on breaking news coverage.
  • Don’t wait for confirmation of breaking news from authorities to send a reporter. We’re not suggesting you go on air with unconfirmed information. We’re suggesting don’t wait for confirmation to mobilize the troops to get to the scene of the event. It is the job of the reporter to go and find out what is happening. You will beat other newsrooms who wait for authorities to get back to them with details before a decision is made to go to the scene.
  • Another way to beat the competition during breaking news is to ask listeners to call in and describe on air what they see happening at the scene. When Air France Flight 358 crashed at Toronto’s Pearson Airport in August of 2005, some radio stations waited for their reporters to get to the scene or to rely on busy authorities to provide them updates. But traffic chaos around the airport delayed the arrival of reporters and authorities were slow in releasing information. The radio stations who encouraged listeners near the scene or driving along the 401 by the airport to call in and describe what they were seeing provided the best news coverage of the event.

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 Kowch for a free consultation at 647 521-6397 or email steve@kowchmedia.com