Covering the coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for just about all newsrooms for the past few months, trying to figure out just what it was and how it worked.
“There are fewer stories now about the fundamental basics of the public health,” says Allan Lasser, co-founder of Massive Science, a companythat works to help make science more accessible.
“There were a few waves of stories early on, when social distancing was new to people, when it was uncertain what we should be doing or how the virus worked, what the symptoms were,” he says. “We’re now moving into a space that’s more looking ahead a little and trying to prepare ourselves for what the future’s going to be for the next 12 to 18 months until we have a vaccine and trying to preemptively answer some of the questions of when it might be safe to stop socializing, what the consequences might be if we get it wrong and trying to prepare for the next set of decisions we might have to make instead of catching up.”
As Massive Science raced to understand and explain COVID-19 to its audience while dealing with those uncertainties early in the year, it focused first on some of the basic science behind the heavy lab work that would prove so important, and confusing, in the early days of coronavirus coverage.
“We did a lot of news stories early on that explained what was happening, politically and economically,” he says. Some of that pertained to whether there was a sufficient supply of test kits, whether those kits could be contaminated and the amount of tracing that should be completed.
“A lot of articles in general publications made gestures about this stuff being based in science and public health but it didn’t go deep into the research says and why it’s the right course of action or how does a test kit work,” Lasser says. “We spent a lot of early efforts trying to flesh out the basics of public health and how the situation is being handled from the perspective of someone in a lab. We had a lot of questions ourselves and saw a lot of questions asked on social media. We deployed a living Q&A page where readers can submit questions to us and we pass them off to epidemiologists, public health experts and researchers to answer questions from a point of authority.”
Many times, however, the scientific questions were dealing with a brand new virus that didn’t have a long history of research behind it.
“Sometimes we don’t know, or the answer requires more research,” he says. “We’re not being shy about saying that.”
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks to Allan Lasser, co-founder of Massive Science, to discuss the challenges of making science more accessible and how to explain the coronavirus to a non-scientific audience.