Story criteria: Urgency of need

Before 24-hour cable news networks that label anything from a terrorist bombing to a celebrity divorce as “Breaking News,” news editors relied on The Associated Press. A big story would crossed the wire with the label, “URGENT.” Meaning: Pay attention because this is big news happening right now.

Residents of Glenhaven, Colo., face a long recovery after the September 2013 floods. Photo by Jim Killam

Residents of Glenhaven, Colo., face a long recovery after the September 2013 floods. Photo by Jim Killam

At Crossfield News, we pay a lot of attention to another kind of urgency: ministries and relief efforts in critical need of help. A good example is crisis response – often involving natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes or tornadoes.

Typically what happens as a disaster unfolds is that “big” media converge on the place and stay for a few days. (Think: TV reporters standing on the beach as a hurricane approaches.) The story occupies the world’s attention for those few days, and the victims are showered with help – sometimes more than they can immediately use. Celebrities hold concerts. People donate money by texting.

And then … most people forget all about it. The media circus moves on to the next town and the next crisis. Right now it’s wildfires in California and floods in southern Europe. Next week, who knows? Meantime, when was the last time you saw much attention given to people recovering from those tornadoes in Arkansas, or the floods in Colorado, or Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York. Or, for that matter, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans?

So, a major story criterion for Crossfield News is urgency of need. We’re not so focused on providing breaking-news coverage of disasters. Plenty of other media already do that well. But when the public’s attention turns elsewhere and critical, long-term needs remain, that’s the type of urgency we look for. What kind of help is needed? Who needs to hear that message? And what stories are happening house by house, block by block?

Christian ministries are among the best at understanding the challenges communities face after disasters. Never is God’s compassion more fully on display as when Christians make a long-term commitment to helping a community recover. An effort like that requires manpower – and it requires letting people know about that need. Especially when no one else is telling that story.

Just because a story doesn’t say “Breaking News” doesn’t mean it isn’t urgent – especially for the people living it.

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