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Data for breaking news investigations

By Brittany Collins

At "This just in: Data for breaking news investigations," panelist Chris Keller, Southern California Public Radio, offered tips to help reporters and news organizations cover breaking news:

  • Plan how your team will gather information. There could be someone working social media. Another person could cultivate sources. Someone else can edit. To stay organized, it's best to have everyone doing a specific job.
  • Become a digital hoarder of sources that can help you in breaking news situations. Ask yourself, "What things do I want access to that will help when the breaking story comes?" Build a data wishlist. Keller covers earthquakes, so he would want information on demographic data, shelter locations, schools, water lines, natural gas lines, hospitals, and transportation. Coordinate this into a social media response.
  • Put information into a timeline format and publish it online. Keep it organized for your audience. Post updates on or around the story every 15 minutes. Here's an example Keller used during the session.

Justin Fenton of The Baltimore Sun talked about using Twitter to gather breaking news. Twitter's regular search engine works fine; There’s no need to get advanced.

Here are some of Fenton's suggestions:

  • When you're searching, don’t use vague or common words. Search anything other than the obvious. Be fickle and specific.
  • When someone tweets about breaking news - like a mall shooting - focus on the people who are re-tweeting and responding to the post. Maybe the people commenting were at the mall where the shooting took place. Get into the conversation.
  • Screenshot everything you find. Tweets can be taken down, so take pictures of anything interesting.


Brittany Collins is a third-year broadcast journalism student at Florida A&M University and a 2014 CAR Conference Knight Scholar.

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