The Covid-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for journalists and the media around the world. On Friday, May 5, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the virus is no longer an international public health emergency, although it remains a global health crisis and an ongoing challenge for journalists and the media.
New ways of presenting information effectively and accessible to the public have emerged, and journalists have shown great creativity and innovation in the way they cover the pandemic.
During the coverage of this crisis, many valuable lessons have been learned about how to report accurately and responsibly in uncertain times. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most important lessons learned while covering Covid-19.
We must do our work knowing the health safety protocols
During times of total lockdown, journalists faced a huge challenge trying to report the situation while protecting themselves and their sources from the pandemic. However, a lack of health security culture was observed among many journalists who took to the streets without taking the necessary precautions.
Not only should they have been better trained, but they also had the right to have access to the necessary resources to protect themselves and others while doing their jobs. This includes wearing personal protective equipment, practicing social distancing, and following quarantine and isolation guidelines when necessary.
The importance of fact checking
In times of crisis, misinformation and fake news can spread rapidly. Journalists and the media should carefully check information before publishing it to ensure it is accurate and reliable.
Avoiding speculation was essential. During a public health crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic, speculation can be dangerous, as it can lead to panic and misinformation. And that was a constant struggle.
Transparency saved lives
During the pandemic, citizens needed clear and accurate information about government policies and public health measures, in order to make informed decisions about their own safety and that of their loved ones. Journalists and the media must be transparent in their coverage and provide information that is clear and accessible to the general public. But be careful, not all politicians can report on health in an ethical manner, for that it is better to interview experts.
The fine line between informing and sowing panic
Some media used sensational and exaggerated headlines to attract the attention of readers, which led to the creation of an atmosphere of panic and fear among the public.
For too long, the media should have focused on providing accurate and contextualized information, instead of emphasizing only the most dramatic aspects of the pandemic. More extensive efforts were also made to debunk conspiracy theories and misinformation circulating online, as they further contributed to panic and confusion.
The pandemic has shown that collaboration between journalists and the media is essential to provide complete and accurate coverage of events. Journalists and the media must work together to share information and resources, and to ensure that the information is as accurate and complete as possible.
Global collaboration can help ensure information and resources are shared effectively and challenges are addressed in a coordinated manner.
Remember that it was an unequal fight
The pandemic has affected different communities disproportionately, and journalists and the media need to be aware of this and ensure that a wide range of voices and perspectives are included in their coverage.
Covid-19 disproportionately affected people of color and the poorest. Communities of color and low-income communities have been hardest hit by the virus due to a number of factors, including lack of access to quality health care, essential jobs that expose them to the virus, more crowded housing, and increased incidence of chronic diseases that make them more vulnerable to the virus.
Diversity is not only important for fair coverage, but it can also improve the quality of information. Different perspectives can help journalists gain a fuller understanding of problems and present more effective solutions. By showcasing a wide range of voices and perspectives, the media can help reduce stigma and discrimination towards different groups.
From now on, the media and journalists must cover government policies and programs that can help address these inequalities. By highlighting effective solutions and responses to the pandemic, you can help promote equality and social justice.
Empathy gave us perspective
The pandemic has been an emotionally difficult experience for many people, and journalists and the media need to be sensitive to this and show empathy and compassion in their coverage. Learned to be careful when reporting numbers of cases and deaths, as these numbers represent individuals and families who are suffering. Over time we became more sensitive to pain and loss and more free to show compassion and empathy.
The persecution does not let up even in quarantine
The persecution of journalists has been a persistent problem in many countries, and the pandemic has not let up in this regard. In the first months, there was limited access to sources, which was a challenge to report with caution and precision in a context of uncertainty and constantly evolving information. But the most difficult thing was dealing with some governments that used the pandemic as an excuse to restrict freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
Journalists have faced persecution, harassment and detention in some countries as a result of their work to inform citizens. Countries like China, Iran, and Venezuela have been particularly dangerous for journalists reporting on COVID-19 and other topics. The situation has been particularly dire in Guatemala, where the pandemic has exacerbated the existing persecution of journalists.
According to the UN, in Venezuela alone, freedom of expression has been negatively affected due to the arbitrary detention of 16 journalists, 4 health workers and a human rights defender in the context of the coverage of COVID-19.
Local journalism is essential
We learned that it is more effective to focus on making sure local communities are informed of the pandemic than to only speak to a national or global audience.
Each place has its own peculiarities and challenges. Through local coverage, we can highlight stories and issues that directly affect the population, which helps foster solidarity and cooperation, especially when everything comes to a standstill, like public services.
Innovation of techniques and methods
Innovation has been one of the most important lessons learned during the coverage of Covid-19. The pandemic has presented many challenges for journalists and news outlets around the world, from the need to work remotely to the need to adapt to an ever-changing news cycle.
In response to these challenges, many journalists and outlets have adopted new technologies and practices to report on the pandemic more effectively. For example, many outlets have used live streaming and video calling tools to interview experts and gather information remotely. Others have adopted new content distribution strategies, such as using social networks and newsletters to reach broader audiences.
Additionally, the pandemic has fueled innovation in data journalism and data visualization. With the vast amount of information available about the pandemic, journalists and the media have had to find ways to present this information in a way that is clear and accessible to the public. As a result, we have seen a proliferation of interactive charts, maps, and data visualizations that help people better understand the spread of the virus and its effects around the world.
This experience has allowed journalists and the media to adapt to an ever-changing environment and present information more effectively and accessible to the public. As we continue to face challenges in covering global crises, innovation will continue to be essential to ensure that journalism and the media can fulfill their role of informing the public rigorously and responsibly.