By: Charles Bowen

Floods, Famines, Fires: How To Cover Them

Visit the Disaster News Network at

It’s no great secret that bad news makes good copy. Blizzards, floods,
famine, earthquakes. Journalists know how to cover the calamities. We
also know how to suffer the slings and arrows of those ‘good news’
advocates who sometimes accuse us of even reveling in tragedy.

Just between us? OK, maybe sometimes we do let down on the follow-

through, the part of the story in which we could tell our readers what
they can do – and what others are doing – to help victims of the latest
disaster, news of which is dominating page 1.

A new Web site, one that is backed by a religious organization, but
which also has a firm footing in traditional hard-nosed news-gathering,
wants to help us broaden the scope of our disaster reporting (and at
the same time, maybe answer some of the criticism from the ‘good news
guys’). Disaster News Network is primarily concerned with U.S.
humanitarian response to current disasters and as such, can give you a
new source of quotable contacts on breaking stories.

The site, produced by a Baltimore technology company called Threshold
Media Limited, is sponsored by the Church World Service and 11 other
religious groups organized to respond to disasters. Staffed by
reporters who have worked for wire services or daily newspapers, the
DNN page is impressive in the fleetness of its own response. For
instance, within hours of the Alaska Airlines jetliner crash off the
coast of California several weeks ago, the site revised its home page
to feature an original 500-word story by a DNN staff writer.

To check out the site’s work, visit the home page at, where you are greeted by the story of the
moment with graphics and relevant links to related material elsewhere
in its own resources and on the Web. Stories here read much like the
usual wire dispatches, except that most have additional information
about humanitarian relief efforts, especially by religious groups.

Of particular interest to reporters and editors is the link to
‘Regional News.’ Clicking that button in the left column produces a map
of North America with color highlighting states or provinces for which
DNN has stories on file. Click a region (or its abbreviation in the
list at the right of the map) to see what the site has about that
portion of the continent.

You also can search the site by keyword. At the bottom of the left
column on any page is a data entry box in which you can type a keyword
or phrase. Click the Search button and the site produces a list of
related stories, ranked by relevance.

Also of interest is the ‘Hot Topics’ link which hooks you up with what
the site managers see as important issues of the moment. For instance,
at this writing, hot topics included stories with headlines such as,
”Fundamental flaw’ seen in disaster mitigation’ and ‘NYC flooding
could be common in next century.’

Other considerations for using DNN in your reporting and editing:

1. For that feature story on volunteerism, you can add a Web spin with
the site’s ‘How to Help’ link. It takes you to a database of
organizations in North America and the Caribbean that need volunteers.
It also provides tips on what to donate, how to select a trustworthy
charity and how to know what disaster victims really need.

2. The ‘Nonprofits’ link gives you stories and backgrounds on nonprofit
organizations involved in disaster relief, as well as links to local,
national, and international groups’ Web sites.

3. Finally, you might want to pass along to your reader information
about the site’s ‘Volunteer Now’ link. This one produces a U.S. map on
which regions can be clicked on to see current needs for volunteers in
the aftermath of disasters, from cleaning up after floods to rebuilding
in the wake of tornadoes.


Bowen writes columns, articles and books from West
Virginia, and is host of the daily Internet News syndicated
radio show (

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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