Top priority in a crisis: People need to understand how journalists choose what to report

Watch a video replay and read key takeaways if you need help with newsroom ethics while covering coronavirus.

March 31, 2020

As part of The Poynter Institute’s On Poynt series of real-time chats with journalism experts, Kelly McBride facilitated a session March 30 on “Newsroom Ethics in the Coronavirus Era.”

Here are key takeaways. To watch the video replay, register below.

  • We journalists should explain over and over again how we do our jobs, how we allocate our resources and why covering the pandemic is so important. People need to understand the information and how we make choices about what to report. If people are convinced that our loyalties are with citizens, we’ll come out this with a more news literate population.
  • Provide a “start here” graphic with key metrics updated every 6-12 hours. Be sure to include number of cases per 100,000 residents and percentage increase in your coverage area. Consider how hospitals are managing — this can reassure people that they’ll be okay. Always ask: What makes sense for your audience?
  • Set a high threshold for naming anyone who doesn’t self-identify with a confirmed diagnosis. Be careful not to inadvertently identify someone through a residential locator.
  • When reporting on treatments, be sure to interview medical professionals. Don’t create an unwarranted demand for drugs that have not proved effective. Stories of recovery are important when presented in context.
  • Get diverse voices into your coverage. If you’re doing all your reporting in a virtual setting, you’ll have to excessively compensate to capture people outside your filter bubble or find ways to safely interview people in person.
  • News organizations are obligated to keep staffs safe. Interviews should be done in a way that creates the appropriate physical distancing. One of the best things managers can do is tell journalists that they’ll be protected from catastrophic consequences if they get sick.
  • There’s no obligation for news obligations to broadcast presidential news briefings unless helpful information is included. You have a range of options from showing an unedited, live broadcast to providing a summary of only useful details afterward.

Newsroom Ethics in the Coronavirus Era