How Breaking News Handbooks Guide Member Stations

Jun 18, 2014

The manhunt that put millions of Southern California and Nevada residents on high alert prompted KPCC to develop a breaking news coverage plan.
Credit KPCC

  Mass shootings, wildfires, floods and super storms are just some of the crises that have become regular news. Many public radio newsrooms prepare for such events by creating a breaking news handbook that outlines the chain of command, level of emergency, job duties, contact information and other essentials that take the guesswork out of the crisis.

In this webinar, Suzanne Marmion, director of news and editorial strategy at KPBS, and Kristen Muller, managing editor of news gathering at KPCC, shared their station's breaking news handbooks (KPBS & KPCC) and discussed how the plans evolved and applied to news events. KUNC's Jim Hill and Brian Larson also shared their breaking news handbook. 

If you're just starting your breaking news handbook, take these issues into consideration: 

Imagine different crisis scenarios. What are some recurring events in your community? Some areas are prone to natural disasters, others may be located near refineries or power plants, some have seen their share of mass shootings. Also, consider a crisis at your own station. What will you do if the power goes out? 

Identify areas of improvement. Was there a breaking news event you could have covered better in the past? How would you like to cover breaking news? 

Talk with other stations. Starting conversations with other stations can be enormously helpful. KPCC reached out to WBUR to help shape their breaking news handbook. Look for other stations to learn from and possibly collaborate with.

Communicate with staff. Take into consideration the needs of your staff. What is expected of them in a breaking news situation? What would they like to contribute? What have they identified as areas of improvement for breaking news coverage? Getting their input will be helpful for shaping coverage.

Chain of command. Be clear who will make the call to deploy breaking news coverage. KPBS gives the director of news and editorial strategy wide oversight in major crisis situations.

Identify who does what. People's jobs will change during a breaking news situation. Make sure the roles that need to be fulfilled are clear. Producers working on a show may be pulled in to produce for round-the-clock coverage. It may become someone's role to make sure everyone is fed.

Consider each platform. As we heard from Jim Hill and West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Ashton Marra, for their last local crisis, they tweeted, live-blogged, then prepared the broadcast, in that order. Be sure to include a plan for social and web, while understanding the audience needs for each platform.

The recorded webinar: