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When information changes rapidly, give the public balance and verification to act on

by Stan Zoller, MJE

During the onslaught of media coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing reporters have been doing is meticulously checking the facts surrounding the outbreak, especially data emanating from the White House.

Student journalists need to follow the same standards as professional journalists. However, it is essential reporting is not only verified, but also balanced. 

As news about the pandemic seemingly changes hourly, reporters need to be vigilant in not just taking the word of a single source with a specific view, especially when details about the outbreak have a political overtone.

Welcome to a crisis in an election year. 

It seems clear that White House officials are not happy when counter points of view are reported by news organizations. The reality is, however, news consumers want and need to hear multiple sides of the story.

As news about the pandemic seemingly changes hourly, reporters need to be vigilant in not just taking the word of a single source with a specific view, especially when details about the outbreak have a political overtone.

While the facts, such as number of tests, deaths and new cases are quantifiable, explanations about data need additional sources, preferably those independent of ties to current or previous administrations.

Mainstream media has done an excellent job in seeking out researchers at major medical centers and universities for independent data. These sources augment your reporting through their independent research.  

It is, however, important to cite any underwriting they may be getting from corporations or foundations as this could skew the independence if the support is connected to a market or political strategy.

But what if there’s not a major medical research facility in proximity to your school? Seeking out experts near your school who can explain data, guidelines and other questions related to COVID-19 will add an excellent dimension to your reporting.

Not only will this give you independent sources, but it will also give you an opportunity to localize, if not hyper-localize, your coverage. While you want to keep your pandemic coverage balanced and independent, the same is true for coverage about political issues related to outbreaks.

It’s also important to make sure comments about the Administration’s handling of COVID-19 in the United States are balanced by comments from politicians on both sides of the aisle.

This is true not only for state legislators, but also for county and municipal officials as well.

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