The 10 things to do before Zimmerman charges are announced

State Attorney and special prosecutor Angela Corey is expected to announce today at 6 p.m. whether criminal charges will be filed against George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February. The Washington Post reports that Zimmerman will be charged, though it is not clear with what crime.

Zimmerman’s lawyers resigned Tuesday after losing touch with their client, who they said contacted Corey, as well as Fox News’ Sean Hannity. Zimmerman also talked about his new website via email with student journalist Wesley Lowery.

Before the charges are announced, here are eight things your newsroom needs to do:

Be ready to watch the conversation taking place around the stories you publish. This includes comments on stories, as well as those on Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Decide who will be responsible for moderating and responding to them. Determine how you will handle racially charged comments. Consider asking a local expert to weigh in on comment threads for additional perspective.

Identify and contact local experts who can add context and give people a better understanding of the legal implications of the story. Also be sure to differentiate between opinions and expertise.

Discuss how you will flag and verify new information and photos circulating on social networks before you share them.

Find a local angle. How does this news affect members of your community, and how can you make it relevant to them? How are people in the community responding?

Understand what the legal charges mean. Learn the difference between first-degree murder, second-degree murder and manslaughter in Florida and in your coverage area. When the charges are announced, you’ll need to explain them.

Think about what the charges could mean for your state's Stand Your Ground Law if you have one. How might this charge affect the law -- in Florida and other states?

Remind staff to avoid coded language when talking about the racial components of this story. Decide how you will describe Zimmerman's background and be consistent.

Have conversations about the images you'll use to portray Zimmerman and Martin. How have you been using the images, and how will the news affect your use of them moving forward, if at all?

If you’re a newsroom manager, consider whether it’s important to send a reporter/crew to cover this story in person. Talk about it with your colleagues to hear their thoughts and advice.

Brainstorm the follow-up stories you may do after the charges are announced. What if new evidence turns up? Does the legal decision effectively end your coverage of this story? Or, is your audience and newsroom prepared for continuing coverage?

Julie Moos contributed to this report.

  • Mallary Jean Tenore

    As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website,, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the site's live chats. I also help handle the site's social media efforts, and teach social media sessions on the side.


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