There are volumes already written on the broad scope of reporting and publishing breaking news, so there’s no need to repeat that. However, far too little has been discussed about the peculiarities of doing that work within a narrow community.
Crime, crashes and tragedies impact greatly victims but for many reporters, the messaging of this news is going to a far broader audience. For community journalists working a beat, breaking news has slightly different dynamics — despite the overall smaller audience, often more people will be far more emotionally invested in the outcome. So you better learn how to do it right.
Community journalists also must be comfortable in a range of breaking news reporting. You might have to chase a major crime story or an obituary for a prominent community members, follow layoffs at an important company or a merger of groups in your beat.
Of course there are two big groups of breaking news: the unplanned (crime, death) and the planned (layoffs, mergers). So when you approach lessons, keep those differences in mind.
Here are some tips:
- Accuracy: You must prioritize getting it right over getting it first. That’s hard to embrace but don’t consider it a signal for defeat. You can move quickly, just stay within what you know for sure.
- Be careful of the echo chamber: One sure trap for community reporters is that a small group of people can trade gossip enough that they convince each other and can trick you into thinking you have multiple sources when in fact you don’t.
- Start with the stub: Use the web to your strength and once you have enough confirmed of interest to your community, get a short post up with what facts you do have. That could start with a press release or a (reliable) first-person account, with the necessary context that you are working to add to the item.
- Gather details on social: There is a frequent balance between getting shorter messages on social platforms or working toward getting something a bit more substantial on your organization’s site. Your job is to inform a community first, and social can play an important role, however you ought not forget the value of remaining a consistent destination for your readers.
- When to do multiple stories: There are two reasons you break off that initial stub post: (a) the dateline you have becomes a hindrance, either visually or for search (particularly when you’re going into a second day) or (b) you are writing an independent story (ie. a news story that a prominent figure passed, and then a more dedicated obituary; or news that a company did a round of layoffs and then lessons from that business leader for others) that are serving different goals.