Given the breaking news coming out of Silver Spring, Maryland today about a hostage-taker at the Discovery Channel headquarters, we wanted to take this opportunity to delve into how radio covers news during a crisis situation.

According to Randall Bloomquist in a recent article “The Challenge of Crisis Coverage,” radio’s traditional methods of covering a crisis situation like a natural disaster or hostage situation could be enhanced.  While he says, “Radio typically does a great job covering local disasters.  Nevertheless, there is room to improve. In particular, radio needs to tap into the crisis communication power of social media, citizen reporting and Internet audio – to both deliver and gather information.”

One advantage radio has over other mediums is that it doesn’t require a video feed to report breaking news.  As soon as news happens, an anchor simply opens the microphone and begins reporting the facts he or she has to date.  While radio has the immediacy to report news quickly, does it have the resources?  Radio is in a dual pressure situation: cutbacks at stations mean fewer people to actually do the news-gathering, a situation made even more pressing during a crisis situation, where one person would be responsible for being on the air and on the street at the same time.

This is where technology may provide some relief and immediacy.  Bloomquist suggests stations create a Twitter account specifically for emergencies and use it to push out and receive news during a crisis.  Further, he suggests that stations recruit listeners as citizen journalists to help provide coverage where they may be lacking.  Lastly, he recommends that stations harness the power of their websites and streams to make station sites the go-to destination for breaking news.

All of these methods can be done cost-effectively, but a word of caution.  Citizen journalists are not trained in news-gathering, so anything they report must be vetted and approached with caution to get the facts right.  We will be discussing news-gathering resources in greater detail next week when the results of our 100-station newsroom survey are released.  How are stations coping with the pressure to first and to be right?

Stay tuned…


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