Sustain What? Is there a Fix for Media Malpractice Covering Vaccine News?
News media, almost by definition, focus on the newest and most dramatic developments when disastrous events like a pandemic are unfolding. That cycle has been steadily intensified in the 24/7 online news environment, where journalistic success, both financial and professional, is still too often measured by clicks more than broader societal needs.
With vaccination efforts rolling out in the next great phase of the battle to tame COVID-19, coverage has too often faltered -- as some science journalists and public health officials ruefully predicted last year. Even major news outlets like Reuters have posted inaccurate headlines that could erode public confidence in vaccination just when the medical community says it’s most needed.
In this episode of the Sustain What webcast, the Earth Institute’s Andy Revkin explores best and worst practices with the goal of spreading simple steps that journalists, and news consumers, can take to avoid misinterpretations of small developments in the context of the big story.
His featured guests are Maryn McKenna, a medical journalist and author long focused on pandemic risk, and Jessica Malaty Rivera, an expert in emerging infectious disease and vaccine policy who is the science communications lead at The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer pandemic data-dissemination effort launched early last year by The Atlantic.
McKenna was on the webcast in December to talk about her Wired story on the importance of conveying the normal nature of vaccine side effects and also is training journalists in how to cover this and future pandemics through the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas, Austin. She’s developing a spring online course on covering vaccination.
On Fridays, Malaty Rivera, who has an M.S. in Emerging Infectious Diseases from Georgetown University School of Medicine, uses her Instagram account to offer updates on the vaccination push and other pandemic health issues.
Sustain What, produced and run by longtime science journalist Andy Revkin, explores issues and options where complexity and consequence collide.
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