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Writing About Accidents & Disasters

Keep It Simple and Let The Story Tell Itself


Firefighters foam down car at accident scene.
tillsonburg/E+/Getty Images

So you’ve done your reporting at the scene of an accident or disaster and now it’s time to write. You have a lot of information to assemble into a coherent news story, and you’re facing a deadline. Here are some tips that can help.

Keep It Simple

Reporters covering disasters sometimes make the mistake of trying to get too fancy or complicated with their writing. After all, they’ve just covered a huge story, and they want to make the story sound as important as it is.

But remember, disaster stories don’t need to be embellished by clever writing. The facts usually speak for themselves. Just tell readers what happened, in simple, clear prose.

Find Your Lede

Your story starts from your lede, so once you’re written that the rest of the story may come more easily. But a disaster story typically has lots of elements, and too often reporters try to cram too much information into their ledes.

Remember, the lede is the story in broad brushstrokes. It doesn’t have to include every detail. You’ve got the whole rest of the story for that.

Get Quotes Up High

Quotes – from disaster survivors, eyewitnesses or rescue personnel – are often the most compelling part of a disaster story. Pick a few of your best quotes and put them up high in your story. They will grab a reader’s attention and convey the drama of the event.

Convey the Chronology

A disaster is a series of actions that unfold over time. They can happen in seconds or take several hours. But a chronological account of what happened will give your readers a better understand of the event, so include that in your story.

Keep The Focus on People

Disasters are events that occur on a large scale, but in the end what’s most important is how they affect real people. Keep the human element running throughout your story. Focus on the victims, eyewitnesses and emergency responders. They will bring the story to life.

Read about reporting on disasters here.

Try a newswriting exercise about a plane crash here.

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