My guess is you have had a few conversations about the coronavirus lately.
You aren’t alone.
Across the country, people are talking about whether events should be canceled and how to keep from getting sick. Major corporations here in Cincinnati have been changing policies in an effort to keep employees safe. State and local governments have been making decisions about public health. Major universities such as the University of Cincinnati, Miami University, Ohio University and Ohio State University have opted for online classes.
Our newsroom is no different. We are talking about how to keep our employees healthy. But we also are talking every day about how to responsibly cover the disease, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on Wednesday.
The virus is a significant concern for many people in our community. The WHO estimates the mortality rate at 3 to 4%.
Yet despite the response from local governments, businesses and the country’s health professionals, a small but vocal group of people in our community are saying the media is unnecessarily creating a panic. I’ve even encountered a few friends who have made comments about “the whole coronavirus thing” being overblown by the media. I've seen and heard people say journalists are salivating over the virus because it will drive pageviews and TV ratings.
The reality could not be further from the truth for our newsroom.
First, I don’t know whether coronavirus coverage would increase TV ratings. Frankly, until I heard a comment from someone to that effect it wasn’t even a thought that had crossed my mind. Our journalists cover the news we think is important for our community. Despite the stereotype of journalists, we would never overhype something just to drive ratings.
Our goal with our coverage is not to scare anyone or create a panic. Instead, our goal is to equip you with information that can help you understand what is happening and how to keep you and your family healthy.
That’s why we have done stories such as these:
Despite coronavirus outbreak, local public health officials still focusing on the flu
Protect yourself from coronavirus when flying
No more handshakes? Not as easy as you think
We know there are other newsrooms that might seek to sensationalize this story. For example, I have heard criticism of one major national media organization for describing a town in the Northwest as a ghost town when that isn’t accurate.
We have taken great care to make sure we aren’t over-hyping the virus. In addition to our internal conversations, I have shared several links with our team from organizations that offer journalism best practices, such as Poynter. Some of these links have offered insights such as words to stay away from to avoid sensationalizing.
For example, on Wednesday Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley declared a state of emergency. Our news alert to people with the WCPO 9 mobile app included context that there had not been any confirmed cases in our area yet.
Meanwhile, we have a responsibility to cover the coronavirus. If we didn’t, we could be depriving people of information that could keep them safe. Instead of our coverage helping prevent a larger public health disaster, a lack of information could exacerbate the problem.
If we didn’t thoroughly cover this story, we would rightfully face questions about our motives, such as: What are you hiding? Why won’t you tell people what’s going on? What is your agenda here?
In the coming weeks, we will continue to cover the coronavirus -- whether the number of people infected climbs or plummets. We also will continue to have important conversations about making sure we are providing all of you with accurate, timely information that provides the appropriate context and does not sensationalize the problem.
Our journalists are first and foremost people. We live here too. We don't want to see our friends and neighbors get sick.
You can follow our coronavirus coverage here and here is a link to important public health information.
If you have questions or comments about our coronavirus coverage, please feel free to contact me.
Mike Canan is the Senior Director of Local Media Content at WCPO 9. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.