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Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Generation J Toolbox

Avoid a breakdown while covering breaking news

By Jacqueline A. Ingles

Sheriff: “We have at least two shots fired in the theater.” (five minutes later)

Sheriff: “Only one shot was fired and it went through the wife’s hand into her husband’s chest.” (Producer calls)

Producer: “We have aerial footage from the chopper in house. Call for it in your live shot. Also, we see a guy being taken out in a white suit. Who is that?” (Run to question sheriff)

Sheriff: “I think the suspect is in a white suit.” (Air time in 30 seconds)

In January there was a movie theater shooting in Florida that garnered national attention. A young father died. I hustled to the scene and went live every 10 minutes with new updates. We had two other reporters on scene, three live trucks and multiple photographers. It seemed the information never stopped evolving. I had to run from interviews to on-air with just seconds in between.

Breaking news can be daunting for any reporter, especially ones newer to such coverage. However, the more scenes you go to, the more seasoned you will become. By the end of the night, the first information I was provided was almost completely different than where I started, except for where and when.

Here are tips on how to stay in control while reporting in a stressful, developing situation:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH

If you are riled up, you cannot process what you are taking in. The viewers can sense your frantic demeanor. In other words, command the scene.

ALWAYS ATTRIBUTE

If the sheriff says two shots were fired, that is on him. If he changes his statement later, the fault does not fall on you as a reporter. You simply say, “The sheriff just updated his information and now says only one shot was fired.”

COMMUNICATE

Don’t be afraid to call your assignment desk, producer, editor or whoever manages you and request they start digging on leads you haven’t been able to investigate.

CHECK YOUR PHONE

I swear, public information officers love to send updates at the most inconvenient times (think, two minutes to air or deadline). You can always sprinkle in new facts in your live shots.

REPORT YOUR PROCESS

Don’t be afraid to tell your audience you are making calls and working to find out answers about X, Y and Z. It shows the public how you are digging and working to get them more information.

DESCRIBE THE SCENE

If all else fails, walk the audience through the scene. What are you seeing? What is the mood where you are?

KEEP IT SIMPLE

Remember the old stand-by you learned in school: give the five W’s and How — if you know them.

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