In breaking news…

Just after 10 this morning, a story of national significance breaks.  AAP reports “A siege is taking place at a café in Sydney’s central business district”

Within minutes, a clearer picture emerges. A group of hostages are being held at gunpoint, their faces pressed up against the café windows. A ‘white-on-black’ flag appears. Is it ISIL?

Around the country, radio stations interrupt their programs to reflect events in Sydney.  Christmas network windows are trashed as journalists jump in to cover the event.

It begs the question, what information do you choose to air?  You want to cover the enormity of events, but have to be mindful of ACMA guidelines to “not incite panic”.

In these situations, journalists need to know just how far to push it.  Most will innately know to keep it simple and avoid the temptation to over-dramatise an already dramatic event. 

But how to get the balance right?

  • In the rush to get the story to air, make sure you get it right. If it means an extra 30 seconds to hear the report or read the copy, take it.  It’s better to be a little late with the facts than early with the fiction.
  • Don’t speculate without substance.  There was a flag, but are we sure it’s ISIL? It’s a great headline, but is it right?
  • Don’t over use the adjectives. A well written story or a good report doesn’t need the extra dressing. It’s not a competition to dramatically describe events.
  • You can be human in the reporting, but you’re not the story.

On the whole, radio has done a great job in covering the drama and most have avoided sensationalised coverage.  It’s again demonstrated radio’s ability to get the news to air quickly and competently.  When we get it right, we get it very right.

Nikole Gunn has 20+ years in radio and is the former DMG Melbourne news director.

Image Source: SkyNews Australia

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