Crisis Management: Planning for the
San Francisco State University
College Media Association Summer Leadership Workshop
Aug. 31, 2014
Types of Big Stories:
Natural disasters -- hurricane, earthquake, fire, tornado
Man-made disasters – terrorist act, major accident, serious crime
Major campus stories – a high-ranking official steps down, scandal, suicide, disease
Before the event:
1. Assemble a contact list. Put together a list of contact information (email addresses; cell,
home and work phone numbers; work and school schedules) for your entire staff. Make
sure each staff member has one and post them around the newsroom.
2. Develop a disaster plan for publishing. Figure out how you will work if the power goes
out in your newsroom. Think about using battery-operated devices and alternative work
places. Set up an alternative printing arrangement in case you can’t print the paper the
3. Create a breaking news culture. Make it clear everyone should call in or report for duty if
they hear of a major story. Get staffers in the breaking news habit even on small stories by
posting quickly and updating news as it unfolds.
4. Create cooperative arrangements. Develop relationships with other campus media so
you can share resources in the event of a major story.
5. Train for the big story. Have a breaking news drill for your staff. Set up a scenario and
have students pretend to cover it (you may be able to do this in conjunction with your
university or city emergency services drill).
6. Know and develop the strengths of your staff. Make sure you have some writers who
can write really fast, that reporters know how to look up public documents at a moment’s
notice, that designers can create infographics quickly, that online producers can post
stories and photos from anywhere.
7. Practice using tools you may want to employ later (liveblogging, livestreaming video,
document searches, crowdsourcing, etc.)
As the news breaks:
8. Report what you know ASAP. Don’t feel you have to wait to get the full story. Report the
basic facts via Twitter, news alerts, mobile alerts and Facebook. That sends the message
to readers that you’re on the story and they should come back to you for updates.
9. Assemble a team. Assign reporters, photographers, editors, graphic artists, online
producers and designers to work on the story. Break the story into manageable
assignments and make sure each team member understands his or her role so people
aren’t duplicating efforts.
10. Staff your newsroom. Keep a few key people in the newsroom to take phone calls and
assign stories and photos as new developments arise.
11. Assign a rewrite person. Designate one or two of your best – and fastest – writers to put
together the major story as reporters in the field call in information or send dispatches.
12. Plan a package. Don’t try to tell the story in one big article. Think about sidebars, lists,
infographics, bios of key players, timelines, info boxes and other devices to make the story
engaging and thorough.
13. Check social media frequently. Use Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social
media channels as a reporting tool for gathering information and collecting sources. But
remember that information posted on social media is often wrong. Try to confirm all
information with live or credible sources.
14. Think visually. Look for graphic elements that will help tell the story – timelines,
explanatory graphics, info boxes.
15. Develop a logo or project title. Think about a catchy title that you can use for the
breaking news package and follow-up stories. If you have time, create a logo to go along
16. Keep your readers in mind. Think about what readers will want and need to know –
names of people injured or killed, shelters and other services for people affected, places to
donate money, food or clothing.
17. Use multimedia storytelling online. Use audio, video, slide shows or photo galleries, and
other multimedia devices to tell the story on your website.
18. Employ maps -- in print and online. Help readers visualize where things happened.
19. Think mobile. Keep in mind that readers may not have access to computers; prepare
material for mobile devices.
20. Serve your readers. Think about the problems this story has presented to your
community and consider how your news outlet can address them.
21. Assess your coverage. Have a staff discussion evaluating what went well and what
didn’t. Learn from your mistakes.
22. Brainstorm. Have the staff develop ideas for follow-up stories and new angles.
23. Editorialize. Use your editorial page to reflect on the big story. How did campus officials,
local, state and/or national officials handle the crisis? What went wrong? What went right?
24. Make space for letters. If you get a large number of letters to the editor, create extra
space for them or post a letters section on your website. Let your readers know you’re
listening to them.
25. Ask why. If a deadly fire breaks out, examine fire inspection reports. If a winning coach
resigns unexpectedly, look at the factors that drove him or her to leave. Look at university
policies, local and state laws and other factors that may have contributed to the crisis.
26. Take care of yourselves. If staff members are upset or traumatized by the event, get help
from your campus counseling center. You may want to bring in a counselor to address
27. Don’t drop the ball. Most big stories demand follow up. Keep on the story until it’s really
over. Follow up on lawsuits, reports, indictments and other news that may come weeks,
months or even years after the news event.