Do you have a multimedia emergency plan?

A news story that will make national or international headlines is breaking. Quick…what do you do? If you don’t have already have a game plan for how to report a crisis online, now’s the time to start making preemptive plans. Most newsrooms already have reporters to turn to for print stories and broadcast news coverage, but here are few multimedia components to consider so the internet audience is informed as well.
The first multimedia component that should be added to a breaking news story is a map that shows exactly where the incident occurred. This can be as simple as a computer-generated map created with Illustrator or mapping software, like the one included in this BBC News story to illustrate where Burma and its 2007 protests took place. Or it could be an uncomplicated Google Map like the one adjacent to a Record story on a bear attack.

Interactive Google map mashups can be created fairly quickly with a number of online programs, the easiest of which is likely FM Atlas. Addresses and locations can be plotted on a map and made ready to embed within minutes. Just be sure to verify the location before posting it online to avoid the Georgia/Georgia screwups that happened last year.
Flash animation/timeline
If a major catastrophe occurs, people want to know how it happened. A very basic interactive graphic or even a flat infographic should be built to better internet readers understanding of the crisis. Examples include’s interactive explanation of the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse and the Press & Sun Bulletin’s illustration of last week’s Binghamton shooting. Flash graphics can be overwrought and complicated if you allow them to be, but sometimes it just takes a simple illustration to communicate a story. The interactive can be embellished later when time is less of a factor.

Audio slideshow
As disasters occur, telling photos come streaming in from staff photographers or from wire services. Creating an audio slideshow that combines these photos with raw or edited audio collected by field reporters is a fast way to showcase both the story and the emotion behind it. Also, interactive slideshows are often the most popular stories on any news site.
A simple slideshow, with or without audio, can be created using a pre-existing template or with slideshow maker Soundslides. Examples include Reuters’ slideshow of reporter David Gray’s response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and its recent encapsulation of the Italian earthquake.

Once readers are informed of how a disaster happened, it’s up the news outlet to provide resources to victims and their families. Post-Hurricane Katrina, MSNBC put together message boards and useful links, as well as comprehensive list of ways readers could donate to relief efforts. In the midst of the fires that raged through California, the Los Angeles Times created a Google map of evacuation centers that showed exactly where victims could go for help.

Landing page
Most importantly, all the print stories, multimedia, interactive graphics and blog posts should be aggregated on one page to serve as a single destination for those looking for information related to the crisis. Not only does a landing page make content easily accessible but it makes the hunt for the latest news less of a struggle when time may be a factor.

Also on 10,000 Words

5 Ways to create a Google Map in minutes
How to save time when using Flash
How the internet is changing how natural disasters are covered
Landmark moments in citizen journalism
7 Eye-popping interactive timelines (and 3 ways to create one)
How to quickly track natural disasters online