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How to Dominate Breaking News Coverage

8 News Coverage Elements to Win the Big Stories


A photo of a TV control room

While breaking news is usually associated with TV, managers in all forms of media need a breaking news plan.

Photo © VisionsofAmerica / Joe Sohm / Getty Images
News coverage of breaking news often includes reporting the loss of life, money or property. While no one enjoys that, breaking news creates opportunities to grow your audience, strengthen your brand and shake up the competitive media landscape. Be ready to dominate news coverage the next time you're faced with a huge unfolding story.

Develop a Breaking News Coverage Plan

Take action now to prepare your news coverage. Your plan needs to be in writing and available to every member of your staff. Include instructions for every type of breaking news you can think of -- natural disasters, plane crashes, hostage situations, bombings -- so that no one is forced to adapt your directions for a snow storm if there's a terrorist attack.

Some key questions to answer: Who's in charge if the normal managers are not there, when will normal job duties and work hours be expanded and how will your staff be able to tend to their own family needs?

Be Ready to Use Your News Coverage Plan

Your plan will be wasted if it just sits on a shelf when news breaks. Designate the people you trust to enact your plan if you can't be there and make sure everyone knows who is in authority.

Part of making sure your plan is ready is to review it regularly. The faces in your department change over the years. Make your news coverage plan part of a new employee's orientation so that no one is left behind.

Also, consider updates in technology. With the growing importance of social media, you'll want to update your playbook. If your newsroom computer system is down, cell phones and social media may become the best way to communicate.

Name Your Coverage

Once you're ready to hit air, the internet or the printing presses, make sure to name your breaking news coverage. This will be an important part of your branding, both in traditional media and online.

Your audience may think everyone has the same news coverage unless you look for ways to stand out. That's why you need a cohesive name and graphic look to serve as an umbrella for your stories.

The name doesn't have to be clever and your graphic elements shouldn't be too detailed. The goal is to get this done from the start of your coverage, not a week later.

Promote Your Complete Coverage

Breaking news can cause your audience to scatter to every media source that can be found. A simple-to-follow promotion plan can get your users back inside your tent, and add others who are searching for information.

Include the elements of your complete coverage. If a tornado hits your city, simply saying "we have the full story" isn't specific enough. You should list the story angles you are pursuing.

That can be as straightforward as, "We will show you the devestation, talk to people who saw the storm coming toward them, tell you who's leading the efforts to rebuild their homes and show you how you can help." The list shows you have at least four elements as part of your breaking news coverage.

Look for the Human Element

When disaster strikes, the natural tendency is to concentrate on big-picture aspects -- how many thousands of homes are without power, how many buildings were destroyed and the total price tag of the damage. That's not the whole story.

People respond best to personal drama, not institutional data. Find the little old lady without heat during the blizzard or the pregnant woman who goes into labor in a hurricane. Your audience will remember those stories the next day, not the news conference with the governor.

If you're not considered the top news source versus your competition, this is the way to draw attention. If the "news leader" forgets to show breaking news through the eyes of the people, you have the opportunity to take the title away.

Advance the Story

In long-term breaking news situations, there comes a point when the shock wears off. You've shown people the damage from the earthquake and talked to survivors. Now what?

Switch to investigative follow-up stories to keep your news coverage fresh. There will be plenty of stories in the days to come without constantly rehashing what happened.

In the case of an earthquake, talk to geologists about what causes a quake and the likelihood that another one will happen. Find out from city leaders whether building codes are up to date. Show your audience how emergency responders took action -- do they have the manpower and gear needed? Don't forget to look back in history to see if there were other quakes in your area and what happened then.

Help the Community Recover

To grab a leadership role, look for ways to help your community. While you may feel as though you can't take on a community project, you might be surprised at how easy it is.

That's because the American Red Cross and similar organizations can do much of the work for you. That's their expertise. What you can provide is much-needed publicity.

Have someone on your staff designated to take the lead so you can concentrate on news. Maybe you can sign partnership agreements now so that you get a jump start on the competition.

Some of those partnerships can include other media. A TV station or newspaper that is working to promote a blood drive can get help from a local radio station group that can air more announcements during the day.

Remind Your Audience of Your News Coverage

In some forms of media, this is called proof of performance (p.o.p.) advertising. You need to remind people of how your coverage succeeded compared to the competition.

You don't want to brag that "when 1,000 people were killed in the flood, we were the first to tell you!" or something equally uncaring. The words and the tone need extra attention so that you don't appear to be making light of a tragedy.

One strategy is to produce an advertisement that is both a p.o.p. and a public service announcement. A 30-second commercial could say that "while we were first on the air when the deadly wildfires began, our efforts don't stop there. We are working with several local charities to help burned-out families. To help us, call this number."

It's impossible to know when your community will be faced with breaking news. The time you spend planning will pay off in news coverage that dominates your competition and helps your long-term management goals.

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