On Saturday October 27th, 2012, I was broadcasting a game between my team and a divisional rival on the road. The game itself wasn’t overly noteworthy, a 1-1 score late in the second period. However my focus quickly turned from the action on the ice to the breaking news developing some 450 miles away.
October 27th, 2012 was also the date of the Haida Gwaii earthquake. A 7.8 tremor that shock much of the province of British Columbia, Canada and was felt all the way down to Washington State. The quake took place shortly after 8pm, meaning mid-second period in my broadcast.
Shortly after the quake, I started getting texts. First from my girlfriend (now my wife), then from friends asking what was going on. In addition to being the voice of the hockey team, I also handled news on the local radio station. Everything from community happenings (it was a small town) to breaking news.
This experience has always got me thinking about handling breaking news on the air during a game. How much attention do you give it? When do you pull the plug on your game? Do you ever do that?
Then I stumbled upon this clip the other day.
One of the biggest moments of the 1980’s covered twice by Howard Cosell during a Monday night football contest. As far as breaking news goes, the murder of arguably the world’s biggest music star is huge…and pales in comparison to my minor earthquake.
Regardless, here’s how I handled my situation:
I reported what I knew live on air a couple of times for the remainder of the period. The fact there was a tremor (which I fact checked with USGS and other Canadian agencies), where it was and the current tsunami threat.
I made special mention every few minutes or so to people who would maybe not be listening to me for the game, but were tuning in for information.
I went out of my way to not use sensationalist language that might stoke fears or be misinterpreted if someone tuned for breaking news in mid-sentence.
Once the intermission hit and I got a commercial break, I hunted for more substantial information and posted one of the first articles online from the event. By this point, my team from neighbouring stations were springing into action and were able to handle the breaking news side of things…my job switched back to calling the game, providing updates on the quake and directing everybody to the website for the latest information.
The quake turned out to be relatively minor down our area. Even at the epicentre there was no major structural damage. Tsunami warnings and watches were issued along the coast and for much of Vancouver Island, but few materialised. One coastal town reported a wave height of around 10 inches.
The key in situations like this is to not over-hype the situation. Provide the facts, point to related information online and focus on the game. Keep your audience informed while also doing your job by calling the action.
Breaking news can make or break careers, but for sportscasters it’s important to understand why we’re there. We’re there to call a game, not to stoke fears and guess at why something has happened. Much like covering injuries, stick to what you KNOW and point to better sources for people to watch.