Media writing

MIDTERM EXAM
You are a reporter who has been assigned to cover a major disaster. This morning, a
passenger jet exploded in midair above Irvine Valley College. No further information is
available as you arrive near the scene of catastrophe, the intersection of Irvine Center Drive
and Valley Oak Drive. A police command post has been establishedthere. An Orange County
Sheriff’s press officer hands you and other reporters an information sheet. Here is what it says:
At about 11: 27 AM today, an American Airlines flight from Chicago bound for John Wayne
Airport sent a distress call from the cockpit to the airport control tower advising there was an
unspecified security emergency aboard. The tower crew had detected the flight was
significantlyoff-courseandatlowaltitude.
Witnesses on theground near Irvine Valley College reported seeinga large plane flying very
low, an estimated altitude of 3,000 feet. At about the same time, 11:29, several eyewitnesses
reported hearinga very loud explosionand instantly seeingthe planeconsumed infire.
Large amounts of burning debris descended, striking and killing at least 30 persons. Many
more might have been killed, but we have not been able to confirm that as now. Those
injured totals more than 60 thus far. Emergency crews from Orange, Los Angeles, San Diego
and Riverside counties are responding to this major disaster, by far the worst in Orange
County’s history.
Theareaaffected isthecampusand approximately 20surroundingblocks. We are searching
for others who may have been killed or injured. The college and many nearby homes and
businesses have sustained extensive damage.
We understand the plane had a total of 234 people aboard, including passengers and crew.
At this point we have no known survivors, though search and rescue efforts continue and are
expected toextend for many morehours.
The Federal AviationAdministration, the TransportationSafety Administration and the FBI
will be conducting their respective investigations of this disaster. We at the Orange County
Sheriff’sDepartmentwillcontinuetocoordinatesearchandrescueandgroundsecurity.
While the cause of this mishap is not our area of responsibility, we are gravely concerned that a
distress call from the cockpit was shortly followed by an explosion, suggesting a mechanical
failure was not involved. We ask that everyone stay clear of the affected area pending
further notification.
A few minutes later you are able to interview the following people. Feel free to usetheir
quotes:
Rosa Torres, an IVC student, age 20: “I was on my way to the library, when I heard this
horrible boom. The sky got all lit up, and I could see that a big jet was falling apart. All the
pieces were coming down on fire. I just ran and kept on running. People were screaming.
What happened?”
Ben Lee, 53, the owner of a dry cleaner’s shop on Jeffrey Road, about five blocks from
campus: “When I heard the loud explosion, I ran outside. I thought my place was going tocrash down. It was pretty scary what I saw—the plane tumbling down with fire coming out.
I’m thinking this musthavebeensomethingaterroristdid.”
Frank Jones, 78, a retired postal worker: “I was driving on Barranca Parkway when I noticed
this passenger jet coming down like it might be ready to land. Then, it went, boom! Right
then there was the huge fireball. I almost crashed because Iwassostartled and scared.”
You are standing at the intersection of Irvine Center Drive and Valley Oak Drive, and all
around you there are rescue crews rushing about. Police have restricted the press to this area,
but you can see black smoke is rising from the campus, which is about one-quarter mile
away.
Some 20 minutes have elapsed since you arrived, and now you receive a text message thatan
Orange County Sheriff’s spokesman will take questions. He arrives at the command post.
Sheriff’s Lt. Jose Ramos tells you and other reporters that he has been designatedspokesman
for the time being. What follows are questions and answers, designated with Q’s and A’s.
Q: Can you give us an update on the situation?
A: I don’t have any new information on dead and injured, but in general we are dealingwith
an extreme emergency. Our sense is that the number of casualties on the ground will rise in
the next few hours as emergency crews report back. The debris from the plane covered an
area of maybe 20 blocks.
Q: It seems very usual that a plane would explode in flight. Do you have any idea ofthe
cause?
A: That’s something federal authorities will look into, obviously. The NationalTransportation
Safety Board, the Transportation Safety Administration and FBI are en routehere.
Q: Why is the FBI coming?
A: Well, given the circumstances, every aspect must be explored. That includes thepossibility
that this catastrophe might have been the result of a terrorist act. Given the rise of terrorism,
even here at home, this is an aspect that authorities will look at very carefully.
Q: Do you have concrete evidence to suggest some terrorist or terrorist group was behindthis?
Has the black box been found?
A: No, I have nothing. But if you look at the fact that there was communication fromthe
cockpit regarding a security emergency, then you have to consider that possibility. I’m no
expert by any means, but the call was immediately followed by what eyewitnesses describeasan explosion, so the terrorism possibility seems hard to ignore. The black box, or flightrecorder,
has not been found. In fact, I don’t believe it’s even the object of a search. We have our hands
full saving people.
Q: What can you tell us about the passengers and crew?
A: At this point, we have not found any survivors. We do hold out hope that we willfind
survivors, but we also fear the worst. The plane was blown apart; it would be very difficultto
survive that. I don’t want to send out the message than no one has survived, just that the
prospects of surviving are not good.
Q: But, just to be clear, you are not confirming they are all dead.
A: No, I am not in a position to confirm the fate of all the
passengers. I can only speak to those we know to have died and
others who have been injured
Q: What’s the situation at IVC?
A: Sadly, several of the dead and wounded appear to be students. I don’t know thenumbers
yet. The campus has sustained a good deal of damage. Obviously it will be closed for the time
being and I would expect for many weeks.
Q: Have any airports been affected?
A: Yes, John Wayne is closed. All incoming flights are being redirected to LAX and othershave
been canceled before they could depart for Orange County.
Q: Has American made a passenger list available?
A: They will have one fairly soon. In a bit I will have the 800 number where folks cancall.
Thank you. I have to wrap up now. I’ll let you know when we have anotherbriefing.
Write a news story of between 550 and 580 words based on the information here. Your
lead should be specific. People have been killed and injured on the ground as the result ofan
airline disaster. While the fate of those aboard the plane is not officially known, there are
indications that it is likely they were unable to survive. Your story should reflect that in the first
few paragraphs.
You cannot reliably assert that the crash was an act of terrorism. At the same time, you
should note what Ramos has to say in this regard.
Be sure to use proper attribution and make clear what information comes from the prepared
statement and the question and answer session. Make use of some of the eyewitness accounts,
as they add color and variety.
While this week’s lecture was on broadcast journalism, you are to write this as a
news story for immediate online publication.

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