Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How to cover swine flu outbreak

Our health reporter Donna Wright asked me our policy yesterday in covering the swine flu outbreak, and sent me this link for discussion from the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins. He posted his morning newsletter under the headline, "Prepare Newsrooms to Cover Swine Flu as Pandemic, Local Story."

I think this thought from Associated Press reporter Margie Mason, a medical reporter in Asia, captures it best:

Even for a disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the Asian tsunami, no one on the ground knew how to respond until they knew what they were up against and, even then, there were major problems, especially in the beginning. I don't think anybody in the news business, regardless of how much planning we do, will be following a step-by-step manual on how to work. I think that if it's the size of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, we will all be winging it to try to do our jobs.
My thoughts quickly went to the months following 9-11 at the Herald. We were wearing masks and gloves to do the mail after the anthrax scare spread to newsrooms across the country. We triple-checked security. When we prepare as journalists for hurricanes, we try to go through every "what-if" scenario. But we plan to be there, with every precaution possible. In this new threat, the resources available for guiding coverage are impressive, including this resource page from the Association of Health Care Journalists.

In every case, we hope all that planning is for naught.

-- Joan

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