10 Tips for Reporters Who Are Covering Accidents and Natural Disasters

Keep Your Cool And Do Thorough Reporting

house destroyed by fire

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Accidents and disasters – everything from plane and train crashes to earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunamis – are some of the hardest stories to cover. Reporters at the scene must gather information under very difficult circumstances, and produce stories on very tight deadlines. Covering such an event requires all of a reporter’s training and experience.

But if you keep in mind the lessons you've learned and the skills you've acquired, covering an accident or a disaster can be a chance to really test yourself as a reporter, and to do some of your best work. So here are 10 tips to keep in mind.

1. Keep Your Cool

Disasters are stressful situations. After all, a disaster means something horrible has happened on a very large scale. Many of the people at the scene, especially victims, will be distraught. It’s the reporter’s job in such a situation to keep a cool, clear head.

2. Learn Fast

Reporters covering disasters often have to take in a lot of new information very quickly. For instance, you may not know much about planes, but if you’re suddenly called upon to help cover a plane crash, you’re going to have to learn as much as you can – fast.

3. Take Detailed Notes

Take detailed notes about everything you learn, including things that seem insignificant. You never know when small details might become critical to your story.

4. Get Plenty of Description

Readers will want to know what the scene of the disaster looked like, sounded like, smelled like. Get the sights, sounds and smells in your notes. Think of yourself as a camera, recording every visual detail you can.

5. Find the Officials in Charge

In the aftermath of a disaster, there will usually be dozens of emergency responders on the scene – firefighters, police, EMTs, and so on. Find the person who’s in charge of the emergency response. That official will have a big-picture overview of what’s happening and will be a valuable source.

6. Get Eyewitness Accounts

Information from emergency authorities is great, but you need to also get quotes from people who saw what happened. Eyewitness accounts are invaluable for a disaster story.

7. Interview Survivors – If Possible

It’s not always possible to interview survivors of a disaster immediately after the event. Often they’re being treated by EMTs or being debriefed by investigators. But if survivors are available, try your best to interview them.

But remember, disaster survivors have just survived a traumatic event. Be tactful and sensitive with your questions and general approach. And if they say they don’t want to talk, respect their wishes.

8. Find the Heroes

In nearly every disaster there are heroes who emerge - people who bravely and selflessly jeopardize their own safety in order to help others. Interview them.

9. Get the Numbers

Disaster stories are often about numbers - how many people were killed or injured, how much property was destroyed, how fast the plane was traveling, etc. Remember to gather these for your story, but only from reliable sources - the officials in charge at the scene.

10. Remember the Five W’s and the H

As you do your reporting, remember what’s critical to any news story – the who, what, where, when, why and how. Keeping those elements in mind will help to ensure that you gather all the information you need for your story.

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Your Citation
Rogers, Tony. "10 Tips for Reporters Who Are Covering Accidents and Natural Disasters." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/covering-accidents-and-natural-disasters-2073860. Rogers, Tony. (2020, August 26). 10 Tips for Reporters Who Are Covering Accidents and Natural Disasters. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/covering-accidents-and-natural-disasters-2073860 Rogers, Tony. "10 Tips for Reporters Who Are Covering Accidents and Natural Disasters." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/covering-accidents-and-natural-disasters-2073860 (accessed May 7, 2021).