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Inside award-winning breaking news: How to prepare, plan and execute

American Airlines

Photo: Aviation Queen / Benet Wilson

Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Andrea Ahles, Box Cox, Gordon Dickson, Scott Nishimura and Mitchell Schnurman won a Society of American Business Editors and Writers Best in Business award last month for their day one coverage of American Airlines’ bankruptcy filing.

The package included stories about the filing, the incoming CEO and labor unions. It became the front-page centerpiece and the business news cover, and it filled two inside pages.

“The filing was touching our readers in more than ‘this company filed for bankruptcy,’” says Andrea, my former colleague at the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It was a comprehensive package because we knew we had to get story out there.”

Big day one packages like this can’t be executed without a plan.

Today’s First Tip: Have a plan to deal with major stories on your beat.

While the filing was expected, no one knew exactly when it would happen. So Andrea, Bob, the managing editor, the photo editor, the digital editor and a designer all met to iron out a plan a month before the filing.

“Usually bankruptcies don’t come out blue,” she says. “It’s a question of when.”

Bob has experience writing about unions so he handled the union angle. Andrea knew the airport board had a scheduled meeting that day so Gordon covered it.

Second Tip: Push to get stories online quickly then think about the print version.

Andrea Ahles

Many pieces of the story were posted online, giving editors earlier access and keeping readers up to date. For instance, Andrea says she had an 8:30 a.m. interview with the new chief executive. By 9:15 a.m., she had the Q&A posted on the paper’s Sky Talk blog. Her editors pulled that post for the paper.

Andrea says she started focusing on the print edition of her story around 4 p.m. She knew the print edition had to differ from online versions, but the information would be the same.

Third Tip: If it’s your beat, backread all the copy in a package.

“I backread all of the stories to be sure everybody was on same page,” she says.

Her day ended at about 11 p.m., she says. She’ll remember it not only because the filing had a major impact on Fort Worth, but also because it was her birthday.

 

About the Author

Rosland Gammon is a former business journalist turned college instructor. Her newsroom experience includes reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and reporting and editing at Bloomberg News. Gammon currently teaches communications at Alverno College in Milwaukee. Follow her daily posts. | E-mail: Rosland Gammon

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