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Covering A National Tragedy


There are so many pictures seared into our memories from the unthinkable nightmare that took place Friday in Newtown Connecticut. When a president is overcome with emotion on national television you know it's bad. When the pictures of the children start to surface, we learn of their personalities and hear their incredible stories, this unbelievable event rips at everyone's heart. This is a picture of six-year-old Olivia Engel. The sudden and violent death of children has to be the most difficult story to cover. Everyone in the community wants information, yet there are so many people, including many children who lived through the event, who are still in shock, grieving and inconsolable. Cox Media Group has a cluster of stations in Connecticut where Market Manager Kristin Okesson explains to Radio Ink exactly how CMG covered the events as they unfolded and how she plans to cover it moving forward.

What was your first decision when you heard what happened?
Our first decision was to confirm the reports, then hit the air immediately as this tragedy occurred in our primary metro. Then, we pulled our music and shifted to an all-news talk format. Morning shows returned at noon and worked until 6p.m. Coverage continues as we speak.

We utilized our news partner WFSB who was at the scene. Because of our relationship with WFSB (the CBS affiliate) we had better access than other CBS TV station affiliates around the country. Again, another example of the importance of having a media partner in the market.

How do you cover a tragedy like this?
Most important is to identify your best people, create systems and assignments which will allow them to deliver the information accurately, with empathy, and with the right level of urgency. 

Use your media partner to dispense information and help identify what is confirmed and what is rumor. Often, people utilize social media for news confirmation, however we found a lot of misinformation in that arena. WFSB for us provided a place to go to find out what was confirmed and what wasnt. We also took two of our most experienced personalities from our rock stations, teamed them up, and simulcasted WPLR and WFOX.  In addition, we pulled all imaging, all contesting, and special features. Going forward, we have also gone through all of our music to pull anything that is insensitive.    

A tragedy like this affects everyone in the nation. How is your team handling it?
The team is in disbelief as most of us have never had to deliver this kind of tragic news. In the past two years, this staff has dealt with news-based weather coverage, but nothing of this magnitude. Many of us worked in radio through 9/11, but this is unique considering the proximity and nature of the crime happening in an elementary school. Our staff both on the air and behind the scenes is eager to help as they know how important it is to have an outlet for the community to grieve.

What can you do to help the community?
Were in the process of determing that as we speak.  Its a real dilemma because people are desperate to help, but there is no indication at this point as to what would assist these families during this horrific tragedy. Our team will determine next steps as more information and details become available. I think the best thing we can do right now is provide an outlet for people to grieve.

How do you plan to cover moving forward?
With as much dignity and reverence as possible. Each music selection is reviewed, special features pulled, and content has all been adjusted to reflect whats on everyones mind right now. We will review daily. News reports on all music stations at the top and bottom of the hour when we go back to music.