Media Faces Challenges In Covering Coronavirus Outbreak

Covering the coronavirus story requires careful navigation and constant attention.

News organizations trying to responsibly report on the growing health crisis are confronted with the task of conveying its seriousness without provoking panic, keeping up with a torrent of information while much remains a mystery and continually advising readers and viewers how to stay safe.

“It’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, around-the-world story,” said Michael Slackman, international editor at The New York Times.

The Times maintains a live news blog about the coronavirus that is refreshed 24 hours a day, with editors in New York, London and Hong Kong dividing responsibility.

The Slack channel set up by Associated Press journalists to discuss coverage among themselves and contribute to the story has 388 members.

Starting Monday, NBC News is turning its morning newsletter solely into a vehicle for talking about the disease.

The coronavirus has sickened thousands, quarantined millions and sent financial markets reeling — all while some cultural critics say the story is overblown.

“It’s hard to tell people to put something into context and to calm down when the actions being taken in many cases are very strong or unprecedented,” said Glen Nowak, director of the Grady College Center for Health and Risk Communication at the University of Georgia.

But that’s what journalists in charge of coverage say they need to do. “We have been providing a lot of explainers, Q-and-A’s, trying to lay out in clear, simple language what the symptoms are and what the disease means for people,” said Jon Fahey, health and science editor at the AP.

Fear is a natural response when people read about millions of people locked down in China, he said. Yet it’s also true that, right now, the individual risk to people is very small. Late last week, the Times’ Vivian Wang tried to illustrate some of the complexities in writing about a disease that has struck more than 80,000 people, with a death toll approaching 3,000.

Most people have mild symptoms — good fortune that paradoxically can make the disease harder to contain because many won’t realize they have the coronavirus, she noted.

“I keep reminding the viewers that still, based on two very large studies, the vast majority of people who get this infection are not going to get sick,” said Dr Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent.

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