Tips for Responding to Breaking News

When a big story breaks in the news, we can become overwhelmed with new information.

Media outlets are continually updating and reporting on the story, our social media feeds fill up with images, videos and all sorts of different claims and theories and there can be speculation in the conversations we have with others or overhear. It can be a lot to process in a short period of time.

However, it's important to remember that even the most trustworthy sources can be wrong about things.

Here's a few things to keep in mind when there's a breaking news story.

There will be misinformation

News outlets might get things wrong, mistakes happen especially in high pressure situations like a breaking news story. The media may say something is factual based on an incorrect interpretation or information that they are told that later turns out to be wrong, be wary of this especially when a news story has just happened or is ongoing.

It's better to wait until all the facts are known as media outlets will often issue clarifications or corrections to their original reporting when they find out more information.

While social media can be a great tool for sharing things that may not have been known by traditional media outlets, it is also a place where people will speculate about ongoing stories. Others will deliberately share fake news. We have some tips on spotting fake news and also about understanding what bots are and how they can be used to spread misinformation.

Check sources

Look at what news sources in the local area are saying, they are closest to the story so will likely have the most accurate and up-to-date information.

However, it's still a good idea to check multiple sources to see if the information is consistent or if there are conflicting reports coming out. If this is the case then it's likely that there's some misinformation that is being reported.

Information that is shared by anonymous sources, whether that is one used by a news outlet or a social media account that has no information about who they are or how they know what they are saying is true, can't always be trusted. Be skeptical and trust official sources that are reported by multiple news outlets.

Be aware of the language that is used

There are certain phrases you might hear a journalist use when they are reporting on a story that can mean different things, for example:

  • "We are receiving reports..." - this means that people have claimed something has happened but it has not been confirmed yet.
  • "Eye witnesses say..." - similar to the above, a reporter has been told something by someone who may have seen or heard something at the time of the story, however this can be inaccurate and may not have been confirmed by other sources.
  • "We are seeking confirmation..." - the information still hasn't been confirmed as accurate but they are confident that it's likely to be true.
  • "We can confirm..." - the information has been given by multiple sources, or revealed by an official source like the police, fire service or government and the news outlet are confident saying it is factual.
  • "We have learned..." - this may be that the news outlet is the first to confirm something as factual but could also mean that they are comfortable reporting something that others are not, mistakes happen and this may turn out to be wrong.

Be careful what you post and share

What you do on social media can have a big impact, especially during times when people are looking for information.

Think carefully about what you choose to post about, share or amplify when there's a breaking news story as it can spread quickly. It's always better to remain quiet and wait until there are verified facts established.

You may also see images or videos that show violence or are graphic being shared on social media. This can be distressing, so if you think that you'll be upset by this take a step back from social media, Newsround have some advice if you are upset by the news while the Scottish Government have information on coping with stress after a major incident.

Don't share this stuff as it will likely be upsetting to many people and could end up being seen by a family member or someone who knows a person involved. If it's something you think will be helpful to authorities, report it to them.

Look after your own wellbeing

Breaking news can be distressing, we have lot's of resources on our Current Events landing page to support you in understanding and dealing with it. 

You can also check out our article about organisations and services you can contact if you want to speak to someone or are looking for support for your mental health and wellbeing.