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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Small Thoughts On Covering Big Stories

In this modern world full of hyperactive social media and 24/7 news updates, accessing information about a news event is becoming less and less difficult. However, covering a big story is still hard since the story itself could be developing throughout the day. Over the past four weeks of producing and covering events from Oregon's college shooting to USC firing Sarkisian yesterday, I realized a few things from working in different positions.

The Story of Now 

As the producer responsible for web and social media this Monday, I realized the power of social media in the context of finding sources, developing stories, and distributing information to the public. There was a sudden boost in energy at the media center yesterday after USC’s head football coach Steve Sarkisian was fired — only one day after being put on a leave of absence. Immediately, everyone on our team started to piece together relevant information to post on Twitter. Within a few minutes, people who had posted saw their postings re-Tweeted several dozen times.

With the first-hand information spreading, valuable sources soon came pouring in. Shortly after the breaking news, current and former football players as well as public figures started to express their opinions through social media. The overwhelming reaction got our attention and the producer team decided to expand our coverage to include the public’s reaction.

The Story of Self 

While it is important for a producer team to get information fast, it is equally essential to get the information right. News coverage should always include main facts such as who, what, when and where, and it should be 100 percent accurate. Sometimes when breaking news is developing, it is tricky for a reporter to keep up with the latest information. For example, 70 people were reported dead in the Turkey bombing over the weekend, but at around 3 PM on Monday, an update on the death toll came out saying 128 people were hospitalized and 97 were killed. Thus the objective of an update is to build upon earlier reports by weaving together fresh developments, reactions, new background information and interpretations. As producers, we need to stay sharp and check the wire constantly. 

After getting all the basic information, the producer team should get into the “So what?” question. It must tell the story by showing the issue, indicating its significance, and including the reaction if it’s immediately available. In yesterday’s coverage of Sarkisian’s firing, the show incorporated reaction from former and current football players, and the stigma of alcoholism. 

The Story of Us 

Finally, no matter how big the story is, producers still need to take into consideration who the audience is. Rather than giving viewers the same coverage they have already seen on their tablets, our nightly newscast tries to expand and incorporate the angle of college students into the reporting. The two live guests today who talked about how USC students could find help for alcohol addiction was a good example of relating to student life. 

As CNN's Wolf Blizter said, “professional modern journalists should pursue truth aggressively and present the news accurately, in context, and as completely as possible.” Developing breaking big news is about getting accurate information in time, pointing out its importance, and relating to the local viewers. 

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