breaking news

Developing a breaking news plan

When news breaks, does your newsroom have an efficient coverage strategy in place? I’m in the process of developing one for the Mustang Daily as part of our structural changes that come with switching to WordPress (more on that later).

In our newsroom, it works like this: One person gets wind of breaking news, whoever is available frantically tries to run out on to the scene, scrounging for batteries for an audio recorder. There is no structure, just chaos. The idea is that an efficient plan will result in better content. Of course, the following guidelines will change based on your resources:

Breaking news emergency kit
Keep a supply drawer in your newsroom that contains an extra audio recorder, notepad, pen and a camera/video camera (even if it’s just a point and shoot with video capabilities). If you don’t have enough equipment to keep an extra set lying around, at least keep an emergency stash of batteries. The breaking news kit should contain a list of contact information login info for your Twitter/blog/CMS and other places you will break the news.

Establish pre-designated teams
At the start of every term, look at the editors/reporters’ schedules and layout sets of teams that will be available during certain days/times of the week to cover breaking news. Save it as a Google Spreadsheet so everyone has access and can make changes. Post the list on the wall and with your emergency kit so everyone knows how to find it. Try to ensure each team has a good videographer and a good writer on board.

Chain of command
Designate a breaking news leader to will assemble the teams as things unfold. It could be the news editor or a responsible reporter. This person can also decide who will copy edit, post and update throughout the day, although it would be best to decide those roles beforehand too.

Twitter updates
Make sure to have a pre-established social media person. Or, better yet, make sure your entire staff knows how to properly use Twitter when the time comes to send out mobile/Twitter blasts using hashtags (example: #UCprotest). If needed, change the reporter’s cell phone number to sync with the newspapers Twitter (just for the day) so updates can be posted from the field.

Keep the workflow steady
Make sure reporters and videographers update frequently and edit video as they go. Have a plan in place so editing video doesn’t take all night. For example, have a videographer and video editor in the field so that one can edit while the other shoots.

Do you have a better strategy? I’d love to hear it. Post it in the comments or e-mail cicmintern -at- gmail -dot- com or