The coronavirus pandemic may be easier for medical and science reporters to cover, but that doesn’t mean general assignment reporters are without support.
Ivan Oransky, vice president for editorial at Medscape and president at the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), says his organization is prepared to offer advice, help finding sources and guidance on covering the biggest story of our lifetimes.
“At a high level, the first thing I’d encourage them to do is think about that story with the same amount of skepticism they would a story about politics or a company making an announcement,” he says. “Trust but verify. You should fact-check them. It will start you on the path of being able to make use of resources.”
Oransky says many people who are health reporters most of the year will often find themselves covering politics during primary season or high-profile elections, underscoring that needing help or being out of their comfort zone happens to all reporters at some time or another.
AHCJ is offering a six-month membership to give journalists access to resources they need to cover the pandemic, including people who can help provide context on policy, help decode research work and even act as a source for reporting.
“It’s almost like you’re having colleagues from around the country virtually sitting with you,” he says.
He also encourages reporters to take a step back from time to time and put things in perspective. If they’ve got the time to take a longer view on a story, it might help provide a stronger story if they can explain a piece of policy or community change in the context of what came before and why it matters.
“That’s what happens with science,” Oransky says. “Each paper might tell you a little bit, but you don’t get the whole picture. Are you looking at the whole canvas or just a tiny square? I think that’s challenging on the day-to-day. … I’m very comfortable with and understand the need for volume, but that means you’re getting an unsatisfying view of what’s happening. At the beginning, any story from the front lines was fascinating and important. But a lot of them sound the same.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell is joined this week by Ivan Oransky of the Association of Health Care Journalists to discuss resources and tools available to reporters who find themselves covering the coronavirus pandemic without any specialized training in medical or health reporting.