Resources for journalists covering coronavirus


By Matt DeRienzo • LMA Consultant

A variety of resources are available to local journalists who are covering the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it’s having on communities.

Mike Reilley’s Journalist’s Toolbox has links to numerous official sources of data about the virus, to journalism organizations’ best practices on coverage, explainers that can help journalists write about it in accessible terms, tips on fighting misinformation, and resources to follow on social media.

The comprehensive Coronavirus Tech Handbook is a crowd-sourced guide to data, tools, best practices and expert advice that could be used by community leaders and health care professionals, not just journalists.

The National Association of Broadcasters has published its own Coronavirus Response Toolkit for radio and television stations.

First Draft has a guidebook for reporters who are fighting misinformation about the virus and navigating ethical questions in their reporting about it.

And both Poynter, the Lenfest Institute and Nieman Lab are providing daily coverage of how local news outlets are handling the story and the health and safety of their own reporters and editors.

Tracking the numbers. Johns Hopkins University is maintaining a global map and database tracking the spread of coronavirus and deaths that have resulted from it.

And a group of journalists is maintaining a state-by-state database, the Covid Tracking Project, that goes deeper into U.S. numbers.

They’ve also outlined best practices for how to present state testing and infection data accurately, and how to understand state-level information.

Tools and tips. Avoid subjective adjectives, choose expert sources carefully, explain to readers what we know and what we don’t know, avoid clickbait headlines, and other best practices and pieces of advice are included in coronavirus coverage guides published by organizations such as the Global Investigative Journalism Network and the International Center for Journalists.

The Global Investigative Journalism Network also has some suggestions for the kind of questions investigative journalists should be asking right now.

Resolve Philly, a collaboration of news organizations in Philadelphia, has published a “guide to responsible story presentation,” encouraging journalists to frame the coronavirus crisis in terms that eschew exaggeration, fear and racism.

Poynter suggests ways in which reporters could “tone down” their coronavirus coverage and stick to facts and proper context to avoid fear-mongering. It also outlines what the AP Stylebook has to say about referring to coronavirus-related terms, and addresses how to talk to kids about coronavirus.

Turning to the experts. Journalist’s Resource, a program at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, is rounding up the best research on economic and societal trends related to fallout from the crisis. Its tip sheets can help journalists write about the impact the pandemic will have on small businesses, and on the broader economy. One tip sheet, citing five different academic studies, addresses the inequality of forcing people to work from home, and another offers advice to journalists in citing such studies.

Another good source for academic and expert insight into the coronavirus pandemic is The Conversation, which has published numerous articles written directly by experts and available for news organizations to reprint free of charge.

Collaborating with other journalists. Digital journalism pioneer Dan Gillmor is urging major journalism organizations to work together, rather than compete to break nearly identical incremental stories about the pandemic, and has laid out a blueprint for what that might look like.

Stefanie Murray, leader of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, has documented numerous examples of journalism organizations collaborating regionally on coronavirus coverage. In many cases, the groundwork was laid with previous collaborative journalism projects centered on a particular topic. Now accustomed to working together, news organizations from New Hampshire to North Carolina are activating networks of local newsrooms that in the past would have only viewed each other as competitors.