How to Cover Chile Mine Rescue This Week

The rescue of those trapped miners in Chile cannot come soon enough, and could not come at a more difficult time for anyone covering it. The word from the Chilean government is that the miners should start coming up around daybreak Wednesday. That will be hours after East Coast newspapers have gone to bed and TV stations have aired their late newscasts.

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Live coverage will begin on many global channels around 4 a.m. If all goes well, the rescue will take about 30 hours, on average an hour per miner. So this story will run all day Wednesday, and well into Thursday. By the time the last miner surfaces, the world will have had plenty of time to focus on this developing story.

Let's give the coverage some thought.

Web coverage will be crucial. This story will generate traffic. The raw video of the rescues and reunions will be Web treasure. Make sure you have a plan to staff this story overnight. Even if people do not stay up to watch, and I bet a lot do, they will expect early Web coverage. Provide ways for people to react, chat and be an online community. The morning traffic should be strong, don't make people wait until 7 a.m. for an update.

Early TV shows, even local TV shows, should recognize that this is compelling video. Just because you are a local news organizations, don't ignore big national and international stories. This will be truly new to most viewers. Local TV, which often struggles to find stories to cover early in the morning, might consider having one of their live reporters assigned to pulling in pieces of the story from satellite feeds. This will be a "talker," as we say in TV.

Watch where people will be viewing this late coverage. Will they be in bars that are normally sports bars? Toll booth workers with TV sets? If I were in Kentucky, West Virginia, Southern Illinois or other such places, I would be watching it with coal miners who know the dangers of underground work. Night watchmen, overnight nurses, graveyard shift staff, quick market store workers, security guards, folks waiting late for flights at the airport might be people you would watch the coverage with.

Anticipate tragedy. Let's hope all goes well, but there is a lot that could go wrong. This is not all sunshine and flowers. These 33 miners have a whole new life to adjust to. If you carry the rescue live, you have to be ready if the news turns bad. How would you react if instead of happy reunions, the capsule is recovering bodies? Have those discussions now, not at 2 a.m.

Jockeying for coverage. Please, let's hope that the story that comes out of this is not of a network, station or publication that pays for exclusive interview rights.

Limit the adjectives, maximize the natural sound moments. Write cleanly. I suspect some will say things like "prayers answered" or "it's a miracle," but if you write without that kind of subjective stuff, if you tell me what I need to know, I can fill in my own feelings as a viewer, listener or reader.

The ingenuity that it has taken to get these guys out of this mine just boggles my mind. The courage that it will take for those miners to strap into that capsule and trust those on the surface to make it all work is more than I can imagine.

Let the stories breathe, use lots of natural sound. Don't narrate everything, let the viewer or listener experience the story without journalists trying to talk over the most emotional moments.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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