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  • Writer's pictureViva Sarah Press

The media and Covid-19

The novel coronavirus and the disease it causes Covid-19, is the lead story the world over.

People want updates.

How many cases, how many new cases, which famous people have the virus, supermarket sieges, what the government is saying, quarantine rules, health advances to fight the virus, and how to know if you’re at risk.

For me, the media coverage of the outbreak is interesting because it is a health-science story that has been thrown into the main headline news.

At media outlets, the bulk of reporters are usually focused on politics and domestic issues. In Israel, security and technology are popular beats, too. The health and science reporters are usually few in number.

But the ever-expanding coronavirus story is so serious that journalists from different beats are being pulled into covering the latest medical news about this rapidly spreading virus and the impact it is having on our world.

Forbes and The Washington Post sent email updates on their news coverage, noting they’ve put their “entire staff” on the coronavirus beat.

Indeed, keeping up-to-date with a moving, contagious border-less virus can potentially save lives.

Continual headlines can also fuel panic, no doubt, but knowledge, in my opinion, is what will help us contain Covid-19 from a full-on outbreak.

So, how did the coronavirus and Covid-19 even enter our lexicon? Who put the coronavirus in the headlines? How did this health crisis become the lead story? And why are the media being blamed for creating panic while covering this story?

The best article I’ve read on the media’s role in covering Covid-19 was published on March 5, by Infectious Diseases Hub. Click the link. Please, read the article.

The media’s role in every world event is to write and tell about what is going on. That is the case, here, too.

But social media is flooded with people blaming journalists for fueling coronavirus pandemic fears. Is covering a story – including the panic mentality effects – irresponsible journalism?

When a journalist writes about people storming supermarkets and emptying shelves even after they just reported that government sources say there are no food shortages – who is to blame for the panic?

The media? Or the people who acted according to their own (mis)judgment?

Of course, there are some media outlets vying for sensationalist stories. Bleeding to lead. But the majority of real news agencies (as opposed to fake newsmakers), are, in fact, bringing facts and information to the general public.

This is a surreal reality for everyone. People need to take responsibility for their own conclusions.

The blame should not be aimed at journalists.

The conspiracy theorists, the fake news sites, the propaganda activists, and self-branded experts are spreading misinformation and stoking panic.

Fake messages from the “police” are circulating on Whatsapp. When I read them, it screams “fake news” to me. Unfortunately, too many believe it to be true. And then panic ensues.

And that leads to finger pointing at the “media”.

In my 20+ years as a journalist, the news world has changed enormously. The way people get their news and use it has changed. Social media has altered the media arena. An article in The New Yorker even asks if journalism has a future.

Not all journalism is of equal quality. There are biases. There is yellow journalism.

There are also many fact-checking, responsible journalists working to report on the most accurate stories they can publish to keep the public knowledgeable.

Journalists have a huge role to play in this health crisis: to inform, inform and inform.

We need journalists to report the facts, update about travel protocols, and let the public know about health policies as they change.

We need to hear about social initiatives, health advances, and technology developments that could help halt the outbreak in our communities, and beyond.

The coronavirus spread is serious and real. It has changed and is changing our reality. How you choose to react or overreact is your call. But please, don’t blame the messenger.

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