I just got back from a two-hour hurricane supply run, as we Floridians watch Hurricane Irma’s slow march towards our state.
In this brief lull between Harvey and Irma, I’m reminded of the many clients and trainees over the years whom I’ve encouraged to make a plan for covering disasters and other breaking news. I can think of only one or maybe two that have actually done it.
Of all the barriers to crisis coverage planning, the one I hear most often is, “Where do I find the time?”
You won’t find the time. You have to make it.
At our PRNDI News Manager Training each year, my co-presenter Mike Marcotte talks about Stephen Covey’s time management matrix. Crisis coverage planning falls squarely into Quadrant II – the place for things that don’t feel urgent but that are, in fact, extremely important.
Finding time for these tasks is the Holy Grail of time management, but I would argue it’s an impossible mission. You really can’t find time for these things; you have to make the time.
So how do you make the time to spend on a crisis coverage plan – something you hope you’ll never need but know you probably will – when there are so many fires screaming to be put out right now? Here are a few suggestions.
Three Tips for Making the Time
- Set a deadline.
Nothing increases urgency like a deadline, especially when journalists are involved. Decide when your crisis coverage plan will be finished, set incremental deadlines based on that date, and stick to them.
- Make it someone’s job.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of newsroom management and consulting, it’s that nothing gets done unless you make it someone’s job. Crisis coverage is no different. Entrust someone with ultimate responsibility for the creation of the plan, and make sure everyone knows s/he has the authority to delegate tasks within the planning process to others in the organization.
- Treat it like a special series.
When your newsroom sets out to produce a major series or reporting project, it (hopefully) dials back some of its other work. Reporters probably aren’t expected to produce as many standalone features in the couple of weeks leading up to the series, for example. It’s an acceptable tradeoff because the series is a high priority for the organization. Likewise, anyone involved in the crisis planning process should be expected to dial back their other work. That may mean designating – or hiring – backups to help with work that can’t be put off (editing, for example).
It will happen to you.
Making time for crisis planning is not easy. But as Houston, Boston, Denver, San Bernardino, Moore, Oklahoma, and many other places can tell you, noplace is immune to a crisis.
If you’re lucky enough not to live in an area that’s not prone to natural disasters, a manmade one could happen any time. And crises will happen at the worst possible time – in the middle of the night on a weekend when several of your key staff are on vacation.
Take the advice of the Florida Division of Emergency Management and their billboards that are scattered all around my home state (pictured above): “Get a Plan.”