How local TV stations are helping viewers figure out what’s real coronavirus news

Tegna’s VERIFY used to get 10 to 15 questions a day. Now, it’s more than 100

April 15, 2020

Last winter, while covering the Democratic debates and the impeachment trial, Jason Puckett started getting a trickle of emails with questions from viewers about a new virus emerging in China.

“We kept a running list of multiple claims and rumors that we were watching and had researchers start compiling information on them,” Puckett, who leads VERIFY, a fact-checking project for Tegna’s more than 50 TV stations around the country, told Poynter via email.  “When the first U.S. case was announced on Jan. 21, we immediately combined the research we’d done and put together our first official coronavirus VERIFY on Jan. 22.”

Tegna’s fact-checking project launched as a pilot in 2016. Before the coronavirus became the dominant news story, the project used to get 10 to 15 ideas each day from viewers, Puckett said.

“Right now we have reached new peaks with an average of more than 100 viewer submissions daily. And to be clear — that’s just the questions I’m getting directly in my mailbox. We also have hundreds of viewer submissions that come from our articles, and our stations across the country are seeing boosted viewer requests in their respective VERIFY channels as well.”

Puckett said he’s getting questions that are heartbreaking and heartwarming.

“My personal favorite is still the grandfather who, on behalf of his grandson, wanted us to VERIFY that Santa was doing well through the coronavirus.”

 

Fact-checkers around the world have stayed busy debunking and verifying information on every platform about this global pandemic. “The World Health Organization now classifies this issue as an infodemic,” according to Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network, which leads the Coronavirus Facts Alliance. You can see the database from that alliance, with work from fact-checkers in more than 70 countries, here. Poynter’s MediaWise, a digital literacy project, is fighting misinformation about the coronavirus on Instagram and TikTok.

Stories Tegna’s VERIFY has taken on include a viral video from a doctor, the question about washing produce with soap, a viral claim about COVID-19 and Ibuprofen and debunking stimulus scams.

“We’re trying to jump into situations where there is confusion or ‘noise’ and see if we can help sort it out,’ Puckett said. “We really do emphasize the viewer connection. We want to know what our audiences are really questioning and where we can help.”

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org and writes a weekly newsletter on the transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here. Kristen can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare.

This daily look at coronavirus coverage by local news and resources for them is made possible with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation