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How Should Your News Station Cover The Tragedy?


When a national tragedy like Newtown occurs, managers have to decide how much their station should cover such a national event. If you have a news station, that decision is easy to make. If you watched coverage on TV, like the rest of the world, you noticed a lot of reporting that turned out to be incorrect. Consultant Walter Sabo says news stations, among other things, should always check their facts before airing anything.

Sabo says, when faced with a horrible tragedy like this or a natural disaster like a fatal hurricane, "we urge our clients to":
1. Check and double check every fact before airing them. Rumor is dangerous.
2. Run no commercials.
3. One of the great gifts of Talk Radio is that the audience already recognizes your station as a safe meeting hall. Think service. Let as many callers on the air as possible, encourage them to share their feelings. When they are done, go to the next call. It's no time for argument
4. Just because you may have the option of taking a network feed doesn't mean it has to be aired or that it shouldn't have a time limit. Not all speeches are necessary; be selective, consider the expectations of your audience.

Sabo says news/talk stations should stay focused on all the facts. "Repeatedly present the facts and no speculation. Allow listeners to share their feelings. It would be impossible to present the facts too often because tune in will be very high, cume will be very high. Listeners who never go to a talk station will during these times. Make sure they hear constant factual updates. Regardless of how little information is available and how unprepared you may be, sound confident. During Sandy there were many anchors who sounded lost and confused. Pause, take your time, dead air is much better than stumbles and "uhhhs." 

As with Hurricane Sandy, radio stations all over the country will soon be looking for ways to help the tiny community in Newtown and the families suffering unimaginable pain. Sabo says what you should do depends on your format. "Some stations will have done great service by letting listeners simply share. Others will become more deeply involved. If a station's team constantly asks itself  'How can we be of service?' or 'How can we put our own needs aside and do the right thing for our community,' the correct answers will come."

 Walter Sabo can be reached at