March 19, 2020 (Updated )
For the past few weeks I’ve been doing some part-time lecturing at the University of Kent. I’ll be honest, I mainly took it as a job to pay the bills for a few months, but I also really enjoy just chatting to young people breaking into the industry and hearing their needs, views, and critiques.
It’s only been a few weeks so far, but we’ve already covered a lot. From the ethics of reporting on the Coronavirus to the realities of fake news, we’ve had a lot of nuanced discussions about what photos, headlines and simple checks can mean for the way the public interpret the wider story.
From The Telegraph’s recent front page featuring a virus larger than the entire earth and a headline bigger than its mast head, to always using the same photos of Asian people in masks, there’s a lot to unpack just looking at the recent pandemic alone.
And, as the story of a worldwide pandemic unfolds more and more each day, it’s difficult to say we’d have made the same decisions today knowing what we know now. Or perhaps, we would have gone further, with the benefit of hindsight?
Especially as a journalist working in a live newsroom, or a bedroom which has recently become your workplace, it can be difficult to take the time to think about this kind of stuff. I strongly believe that mistakes don’t happen willingly, but when you’re a reporter who’s expected to put out eight plus stories every single day, you’ve got to make calls on things quickly.
We live in a world where news is fast-paced, unverified user generated content is everywhere, and people rarely click beyond the headline and its accompanying social sell. When I occasionally do shifts in a digital newsroom, I leave with nothing but admiration for the people who have the stamina to do this full time. I certainly wouldn’t get all the calls right.
Useful Resources For Journalists Covering Coronavirus
First Draft News – Resources For Reporters
IJNet – Tips For Journalists, Covering COVID-19 While On Other Beats, The Role Of Solutions Journalism
Solutions Journalism – Reporting On What’s Working Helps Tell The Whole Story
But, whether you work in a newsroom, are a freelancer typing alone in an office, or pulling a combination of the two, my conversations with students have reminded me that we should all try and take a little more time to reflect. Whether that’s double checking a headline with a colleague, thinking about how you can put numbers in context, or doing some basic checks on a social media post, it all helps.
Especially in unprecedented times of uncertainty, it’s important to remember that the words we use, the pictures we pick, and the checks we take before pushing go all have a huge impact on how a story and its narrative plays out. Sure, we’ll never be 100 percent perfect, but a small sense check really can go a long way.
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