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Help for reporters providing 'essential services' during the coronavirus pandemic

Help for reporters providing 'essential services' during the coronavirus pandemic

Picture of Michelle Levander
Journalists working
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Journalists have been deemed to be providing “essential services” during the coronavirus pandemic. Yet reporters in our community of practice at the USC Center for Health Journalism and other reporters in the field tell us they need help as they shoulder the enormous responsibility of communicating risk and as they hold officials to account for policy decisions.

Reporters we talk with are eager to learn more. They are dedicated and take their public service responsibility seriously. Yet many tell us they also feel isolated, unsure of how to proceed and hungry for sources and expertise.

 Shrinking newsrooms mean there are far fewer dedicated health and science reporters than ever before. As a result, it often falls to general assignment reporters to understand and report this complex and rapidly changing situation. 

The Center for Health Journalism will be developing new content and online programming in the coming weeks to address the needs of reporters and editors.

To help us serve you, we hope you’ll take our survey about reporting needs and share it with colleagues.

Early responses – close to 100 so far – show that journalists want to do more substantive reporting but don’t always know where to start. 

“I feel like my newsroom is drowning in breaking news, like all are, and that isn't giving us time to look at big picture things, planning ahead, anticipating the next stories we need to be doing, or sounding the alarm on issues that need to be addressed right now because we are mostly re-writing a lot of press releases currently,” one journalist told us. “I think pointers on how to strategically plan stories that matter, not just stories that report on the latest press release, would be helpful.”

 Many also are trying to connect with their community but finding it hard because of social distancing and shelter in place guidelines. Most editors tell us they could desperately use extra funding and many reporters want to add more infectious disease and virology experts to their source lists – with everyone so hard to reach. And then, there’s the challenge of sorting through competing messages from government authorities and health care officials.

More urgently, some reporters and editors told us they are concerned about safety and the ethics of possibly exposing those they interview—or being exposed themselves. That’s a mission critical question and based on that feedback, we’ve designed a separate survey to find out what reporters want to know about safety and ethics. We'll share best practices in response.

 As a Center focused on community health journalism, we'll also be looking at ways to help journalists tell the stories of the underserved in their cities and towns, something they indicated as a priority.

To see more of the content and resources we will be adding on COVID-19, please sign up for our newsletter

We look forward to continuing our conversation. In this unprecedented moment, we'll do our best to respond to journalists' needs and the needs of the communities they serve. 

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