People should not expect a quick end to the COVID-19 pandemic, which will likely last months, health journalist Maggie Fox tells a News Decoder town hall.
Maggie Fox addresses News Decoder’s town hall on COVID-19, 31 March 2020
The coronavirus disease will take months before it is under control, and we need to be careful when weighing which news sources to trust in following COVID-19.
Those were messages that News Decoder correspondent and health expert Maggie Fox delivered during an online “town hall” with students and faculty from the educational news service’s partner schools.
“We’ve got at least a year of misery, of a great deal of deaths,” Fox said during the exclusive, hour-long webinar on March 31.
“It’s going to be a year from now before we have any kind of real intervention for this,” Fox said, predicting that a vaccine against the coronavirus disease would not be available before December.
Scrutinize COVID-19 sources, health journalist advises
Some health experts say this means social distancing measures may have to be extended or periodically renewed over the next few months to prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed. Many predict COVID-19 will join the mix of seasonal viruses that currently sicken millions of people each year.
“Perhaps people will develop a bit more respect for all of these viruses and respect for one another and their behaviors that spread them,” Fox said.
Asked which sources of information about COVID-19 can be trusted, Fox said there is no single source and it’s important to know which outlets are trustworthy. “Luckily, journalists have rules for deciding who’s a reliable source. We can apply them here,” she said in a written note after the online session.
She said it’s important to ask three questions. Is it a primary source — that is, someone with first-hand knowledge? How does the person claim to know what they know? And does the source have an agenda?
“Even public health experts have an agenda. They’re usually looking to protect a population. That can sometimes conflict with the agenda of a family doctor, who is worried about individual patients,” Fox said.
“These are all factors that anyone, not just journalists, can use to weigh the value of a story, a social media post or even a conversation with an acquaintance.”
The role of social media in spreading information, much of it false, means it is more important than ever to check the accuracy of what one reads and sees.
“Social media has allowed anybody with a computer keyboard or a phone to have a voice,” Fox told the webinar. “Sometimes it’s okay and results in accurate information being disseminated, but it also results in a lot of junk.”
Students should report on COVID-19 in coming months
Fox urged student reporters to step up in the coming months and fill the information gap left by failing local media outfits.
Student journalists have unique access to report on how local leaders are responding to the crisis, how universities are dealing with foreign or economically vulnerable students, how well schools are doing in providing online education and what large testing organizations are doing.
One illustration of the power of student journalism is a recent article by Charles Gorrivan, a student at News Decoder partner school Friends Seminary. The article explored how COVID-19 risked exacerbating inequality in New York City, and was subsequently cited in a Brookings Institution article on class and COVID-19.
Fox encouraged students to “report in real-time as if you were a national journalist.”
Saying everyone has a part to play in combating the virus, Fox likened COVID-19 to wildfires that in the past year have ravaged Australia.
“If one or two localities lower restrictions, it will send out sparks everywhere else,” Fox said. “We’re all in this together as a world.”
Dylan Carlson-Sirvent is an intern at News Decoder. He currently lives in Paris, where he is learning French and taking guitar classes. Carlson-Sirvent will start his university studies at Yale College later this year. He loves reading, playing music and learning languages.