Introducing the Local News Go Bag Toolkit

 This resource provides news outlets with a set of tools and templates to begin preparing and refining their emergency coverage

Today I am launching the Local News Go Bag Toolkit. 

This resource provides news outlets with a set of tools and templates to begin preparing and refining their emergency coverage. The toolkit contains customizable resources for organizing emergency supplies and source lists, preparing an emergency plan and tracking developments, and different exercises to help newsrooms prepare and reflect on and refine their workflows and coverage. 

The emphasis is on preparing before a disaster — it’s the most important step that journalists, newsrooms, and communities can take. This project is designed to be useful for local newsrooms and journalists at any stage of a disaster. Aside from the templates and tools in the toolkit, there are sections of tips and strategies for before, during, and after an emergency, from preparation to breaking news to recovery.

This toolkit is designed to be useful for local news reporters at any stage of a disaster —  but putting together this project has revealed the larger structural need for ongoing exchange and action about how local news outlets respond to and engage with disaster coverage. 

The toolkit is just a starting point, let’s expand the conversation. As part of this project, I will be organizing a series of virtual meetups for journalists and news workers who want to share tips, and connect about what’s worked in their newsrooms and communities, starting with an introductory meeting. You can get involved by sending an email or filling out this form

The future of local emergency coverage

When I asked local journalists whether they’ve found ways to make this kind of work sustainable, I expected people to emphasize the need for more resources and operational support, and they did. But one of the common themes that came up was the value of knowing your limits — and finding ways to  keep to them. When an emergency arrives at your door, it can be hard not to try and fill all the information gaps, exhausting yourself working long hours for weeks to help your community.  

As part of my research for this guide, I asked reporters what they wished they had known, what they wanted to share, what they wanted to see more of in local reporting, and what they thought newsrooms were doing right. I wanted to identify concrete steps newsrooms could take to make local disaster reporting easier, today, and share those strategies more broadly.

But I also asked people, if they had a million dollars to put towards supporting better local reporting on emergencies, what would they do with it? So many of the people I spoke with had been making substantial impacts in their own communities, but lacked the time and resources to also share that work with each other. 

People had great ideas, many of which they were starting to work on in different places across the country. These included:

Despite an increasing recognition that addressing mental health, trauma, and burnout in journalism is imperative, it’s another thing entirely for local newsrooms to have the resources and time to implement workplace policies to actually support staff, much less independent reporters or freelancers, particularly in an increasingly unstable local news industry. Making sure that there are greater structural forms of support and community is crucial for local journalists doing emergency reporting, and one of the most important issues that will need to be addressed as more newsrooms face local disasters. 

How we got here

Over the last eight months, which included much of the hottest recorded year in history, I spoke with people who had faced very similar experiences with local reporting on emergencies: feeling stretched to the limit, while struggling to provide meaningful, accurate and life-saving coverage when people needed it most. Many local newsrooms haven’t given much thought to putting together go-bags, undergoing safety training, or how they will publish during a widespread blackout or internet outage. But I also talked with many journalists and news leaders who have come up with wildly creative, thoughtful, and most importantly useful ways to serve their communities and build more resilient newsrooms. They have stories and strategies worth sharing. 

Many of these veteran journalists are working in isolation in rural places, often without much support or recognition outside their communities. Despite their innovations, the scale and scope of the need for this kind of coverage has accelerated, and the structural challenges they face as small local news outlets can compound those challenges. While I’ve built an initial guide based on their experiences and other research, finding ongoing ways to build connections and support between these journalists and newsrooms has become one of the long-term goals of this project.

My own experience as publisher of an independent local news startup, covering a large and under-resourced rural area, has been similar. Starting from the very occasional house fire or summer wildland fire in 2016, to the county’s deadliest fire in history in 2017, to the largest wildfire in California history in 2018, and then the state’s first million acre fire in 2019 — our coverage shifted from a few air quality and breaking news stories, to what is now more than an eight month season of potentially round the clock fire coverage. These challenges are what planted the seed for this project, but the need has continued to grow.

Like climate change and the generational shift occurring in the news industry, it can be hard to know where to begin taking action to address these needs, due to their scope. More and more communities will see climate-based emergencies or other disasters in the coming years, and the role of local journalists in these situations is essential. The ways that different communities access information are shifting, along with our historic baselines for what types of climate disasters might occur, and it’s difficult to keep up. Increasingly, journalists will need to adapt or put aside traditional methods of engaging with communities, sharing information and explaining context — and we will need to create new ways to respond.

Cite this article

Maxwell, Kate (2024, March 13). Introducing the Local News Go Bag Toolkit. Reynolds Journalism Institute. Retrieved from:

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