How Lean Newsrooms Cover Breaking News

Jun 16, 2014

KUNC's Grace Hood retweets an image of precipitation in Colorado that preceded epic floods in September 2013.
Credit @gracehood

  Size is often considered an impediment to covering breaking news, but several newsrooms are using their resources strategically to provide information for the breaking news audience in times of crisis. In this webinar with West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Ashton Marra and KUNC digital media manager Jim Hill, we see key attributes of lean newsrooms that cover breaking news well. 

1. Twitter. Ashton Marra treated Twitter as its own platform during the chemical spill in West Virginia. What does that mean? She live-tweeted important press conferences and interacted with people who were seeking answers on Twitter. Often times, news outlets treat social media as a distribution channel for already-reported web and radio stories. However, during a time of crisis, people need that information right away in the platform they're using for immediate information.

"In an emergency situation, people are expecting that information as quickly as they can possibly get it, and Twitter is the best way to get that information out there," said Marra. "There's a saying in our newsroom that, 'it isn't happening in the real world unless it's happening on Twitter,' so we have to get that information out there." 

2. Live blog. When major news breaks, these stations start a live blog so that all incoming information can be organized within one post. Jim Hill adds an editor's note to the top of the live-blog to give people an overview of the coverage and where to go for more information. 

3. Aggregate/Retweet. Look for information that can be aggregated from other sources if you don't have reporters to deploy into the field. Retweeting and aggregating tweets into stories can be a great way to keep the audience informed. Many public officials and emergency responders are savvy on Twitter so be sure to follow them. 

4. Teamwork. Knowing who does what is critical in a breaking news situation. What also makes a team successful on multiple platforms is the incorporation of a strong digital editor into the newsroom. The digital editor helps radio reporters plan out web stories in advance, write headlines, frame photographs, manage tweets and helps with story ideas. 

5. Plan ahead. Breaking news events are often recurring events -- fires, floods, hurricanes, manhunts, even riots. If emergency services personnel are hunkering down, you may consider doing so too. KUNC has a breaking news handbook for fires that applies just as well to other crises. 

Here is the recorded webinar: