When it “hits the fan”, the anchors backside hits the chair. If you made the transition to the studio desk from a field reporter, you already have many of the skills you need to handle breaking news. If not, there are some basic things you can do to make you shine in that anchor hot seat.
Before I get into the specifics, there is one main job you have when there is a news crisis. You must be a newsroom leader. Even before hitting the air, you must remain calm, stay focused and personally organized. The producers and others in the newsroom will be looking to you to set the tone. Your actions and demeanor will give the entire organization confidence at this time of professional chaos.
Make your way to the set or the flash cam, but always make a quick stop at the assignment desk to thank them in advance for keep you “in the loop”. Make a list of what you know and what video or live pictures you have. But, also make a list of what the desk is working to get you. Tell them the best way to get you information.
BE A VIEWER
When you first go on the air you will have very little information and you must immediately set the scene. Many times all you will have is the video from a helicopter or live truck. The viewers are seeing what you are seeing and they have questions about what they are seeing. Where is that? What’s that corner? Why are those cars’s there? Who are those people? How far is it from a mall, school, government building? Be curious along with your viewers. It will give you something to talk about with the viewers until more information becomes available.
WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW
Telling the viewers what you DON”T know is an important tool when you are ad-libbing breaking news. The viewers need assurance that you understand they need certain information and that you and the news team are working on getting it. Tell them that you have calls into officials. Tell them you have a reporter on the way to get that part of the story and let them know you what you don’t know to reassure them that as soon as you DO know they will get it from you and your station.
BE A FRIEND
Depending on the nature of the breaking news, you may need to look into the camera and just be a friend to the viewer. During the Northridge earthquake here in Southern California, all of the anchors had to repeatedly endure aftershocks while on the air. The viewers were feeling the same aftershocks and their favorite TV news anchor helped many get through those frightening moments. So, whether it’s a school shooting, or major fire, or plane crash or some natural disaster, remember that the viewers are tuning you in for comfort and information.
BECOME A TEAM
This sounds simple, but it is the most difficult thing you will have to do. Sharing the duties with your co-anchor during breaking news is tougher than winning Dancing with the Stars! The best way to make the most of your teamwork is the listen. Listen to what your co-anchor is saying even though the producer may be talking to you in your ear. Another tip is to become a producer on the set. Constantly work out with your partner who will talk first, who will do the re-cap, who throws to the next live shot. If you wait for the booth to do it, your coverage will lose its edge.
LEAD SOCIAL MEDIA
You will likely be getting information first from crews in the field or from a producer. Make sure you are leading the station’s social media effort. Viewers are trusting you on-the-air, they need to trust you on social media as well. It does not matter that you are on-camera, post anyway. Tell viewers you are posting the latest and newest info. Share videos or info about how you are gathering info. Share emergency responder phone numbers or evacuation information.
All of this brings us back to the first point I made. As anchors, the entire team looks to you for leadership during chaotic news situations. Big market or small market, the anchor is the primary reporter during breaking stories. When it “hits the fan” don’t duck or run or sit back and wait for others to lead. Earn your anchor dollars and respect and win during breaking news.