Breaking news coverage lessons learned from MOOSE 94.1 FM

EllElliot lake mall collapseiot Lake has a population of 11,000 people. The only radio station in town is MOOSE 94.1 FM. It has three full time employee. When the roof-deck garage of the Algo Centre Mall caved in, all three put their lives on hold to be there for the community and keep them informed of the latest developments.

The station winning the Central Canada RTDNA Byron MacGregor Award for best newscast in a small market is a testament to the dedication those three employees have to serving their community in a time of crises.

Kori Rowe RTDNAKori Rowe receives award from RTDNA Central Canada Regional Director Scott Metcalfe. The driving force behind the station’s coverage was 45-year-old Kori Rowe who co-hosts the morning show with Bob Alexander. Kori also works in sales and pitches in as a reporter from time to time. She has been with the radio station for about a year. The third member of the team was Erika MacLellan who helped out on air, was the morning show technical producer in master control and also worked in sales.

Kori worked 20 hour days keeping Elliot Lake residents up-to-date on what was happening at the mall –  there was plenty to report on including a near riot in the community when rescue teams abandoned the search for two missing women. It took an intervention by Premier Dalton McGuinty to get crews to resume the search and locate the two dead victims.

This is her story:

“Listen to Moose FM … they’re telling us the facts … they’re telling the truth” – Elliot Lake residents

“Every time I’d try to go home, to get some sleep before co-hosting the morning show, something new happened that kept me up into the middle of the night,” Kori said after picking up the award at the RTDNA Central Canada convention in Toronto.

“The town was outraged with the decision to stop the search. Many believed at least one of the trapped women was still alive under the rubble. Elliot Lake is a mining town and residents felt it wasn’t right to abandon the search. Many wanted to rush into the collapsed mall and take matters into their own hands to find the missing women.”

“The hardest thing you have to do as a reporter is to report on a tragedy in your community” – Vista Radio VP Wendy Gray

It was a time of high drama and intense emotion for the town’s people. Kori had to keep above the fray and ignore the rumours and just concentrate on the facts.

Wendy Gray is the VP of Vista Radio East, that owns Moose FM, she has high praise for Kori and the other members of the team who covered the mall collapse.

“It is often one of the hardest things a reporter will have to do and that is to report on a tragedy in your community when lives are lost and many others are impacted by the event,” Wendy said.

“I told them, ‘guys you have to work and play in that community, you are still there when the rest of the media leaves Elliot Lake, so make sure you do your best to provide listeners with the facts. As the days wore on, I could tell emotionally it weighed on Kori … you could hear the emotion in her voice.”

 At one point in the coverage, when the fiance of one of the victims interrupted a press conference to praise the search and rescue teams, Kori’s emotions got the better of her on air.

“I recognized the sadness people were going through in the community. It was so sad … so heart wrenching when this man got up to defend the search and rescue teams who had come under attack for stopping the search … I just broke down on air and started crying.”

Kori has this advice for anyone working in radio when a major breaking news story happens in their community:  “It’s all about the attitude … not thinking of why should I do this … why should I work 20 hours a day … I know some would say: ‘I can’t do that’ but you either care about reporting or you don’t. It never occurred to me not to be there … even when I was so tired, I kept going because the community depended on the radio station to keep them informed.”

Kori is right. It takes the right attitude, the passion and the commitment to tell the story that is gripping your community during a major breaking news event. It also takes courage to let your emotions come out on air. All we have in radio is our voice and our humanity. In times of terrible sadness, Kori let her heart tell the story with her tears. We can all learn from what Kori and her team did to tell that story to their listeners.