In a big story like the bombings at the Boston Marathon remember several things.
First: Numbers change. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a story of chaos, fog and large groups of people where the casualty count doesn’t move. Typically the needle goes up. Once in a while it falls. It always moves. Be careful, then, of how you state these things, how definitive you are, who is giving you this information and so on.
Second: Be mindful of information. In chaotic situations like Boston or Newton or elsewhere, there is a lot of information, rumor, speculation and outright guessing. Don’t fall victim to that. Sometimes this information — either deliberate misinformation or simple human error — can change your story wholesale. Sometimes other outlets have the wrong information. That doesn’t mean you should misreport based on their errors. Sometimes your sources will give you erroneous information. (See Newtown.) Be sure you attribute. Be sure you have the right info.
Third: Keep your head. You aren’t a robot, but you aren’t doing your job if you can’t keep it together. If you’re on the scene of a chaotic story that makes you a potential danger to yourself or others. Think about that for a bit. To effectively do your job, to not get hurt, to not prevent others like police and fire and EMTs from doing their jobs, you have to have your wits about you. Every great snippet of journalism you’ve seen from Boston, photos, videos or stories, have all started right here: keep your head. This applies if you are removed from the area, as well. Ours are jobs that require clear thinking.
Four: When you aren’t covering a story directly, read the locals. The Boston Globe has done an admirable job in the midst of this terrible story. Do pay attention to their work. Check out their Twitter, too.
Five: If you aren’t there, localize, localize, localize. Did you know a Samford student and her father had just finished the Boston Marathon? Did you know that more than 100 Alabamians were registered in this race? Did you know a Birmingham man was crossing the finish line as the first bomb detonated? Did you know that this attack is already changing the way local groups consider security at open events? Do you know what the Mercedes Marathon organizers and local law enforcement do to patrol their own starting line at their annual February race in downtown Birmingham? What about the road to recovery for amputee victims? I’d bet you could make one phone call to the Lakeshore Foundation down the street and find a person who can help you with quotes there. Do you think people might be wondering about that now? These are all strong local stories.
Finally, there is a lot of information from other great sources, too. Look how everyone is jumping to Storify to try to curate some corner of the information.