Understanding Media Sources in the Pandemic

Why can’t we have sleepovers, play on the playground or go climbing? What have you heard about coronavirus (COVID-19)? How does it spread? Who can get it? What happens if you do get sick? At this point, I’m sure you’re heard a lot of different pieces of information, most of it probably from other people. Today, I want you to focus on doing your own research, gathering facts from credible sources.

What are credible sources? “Credible sources” refer to organizations and media outlets known for producing fact-based, trustworthy information that has undergone a gatekeeping process (meaning several tiers of people check and verify the information before it is released to the public).

We’ll start with health organizations. For health issues, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), national public health institute for the United States. Use the CDC’s resources on COVID-19 to answer the following questions:

1. How does the COVID-19 spread?
2. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
3. How can your family prepare if someone gets sick? What should you do?

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a global public health agency and has produced wonderful resources about COVID-19. Look at WHO’s page of mythbusters. Identify 3 myths about what can kill the coronavirus.

We can also turn to news outlets for information. Like other news sources, The New York Times and The Washington Post have produced a plethora of stories on coronavirus, covering many angles on what it is, how the disease affects groups of people, and its profound impact on society. With news stories, it is important to look at the source and the date. Articles written about coronavirus in January had a very different purpose and tone compared to stories produced this week. Compare this January 29th story: “New York is Bracing for the Coronavirus” to this one from today, in which there are more than 15,000 cases: “New York Prepares for a Week at the Pandemic’s Center.” What was the purpose of each story? How has the tone shifted?

Compare local news to national news or look across media platforms. Broadcast news stories (television news) are packaged differently than ones created for print and online sources. For example, watch this Nashville News Channel 5 broadcast and discuss its focus.

What are not credible sources? We have what feels like unlimited media choices. It can be hard to tell what sources we should trust. How do you determine what are not credible sources? If “information” does not have to pass through a gatekeeping process (or doesn’t reference a source that does), it may not be credible. Social media posts, blogs, memes, email forwards, and personal websites are all examples of media content with no screening process. Anyone can create posts or memes and publish them, without others checking the information.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from these types of media products, but take them with a grain of salt (be a little skeptical about the information). This means that if you read something about coronavirus on social media or on a website, look up the information using a credible source (organization or news outlet-produced) before you believe it, or even worse, share it with others.

For example, a number of people shared this meme on social media about preventing coronavirus by gargling salt water [FALSE INFORMATION].

Why do you think people believe in such “remedies?” Even worse, why do people share “information” even though it has no factual basis?

News stories and factual resources are vital at this tough time. Knowing where to look for credible information will help us stay updated and not be misled by fake remedies or other myths of the coronavirus.

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