Covering Infectious Disease

As the fear of the Ebola virus consumes the U.S. and dominates the media, how can journalists sort out science from scare tactics and produce factual pieces that educate their audience — acknowledging but not pandering to the fears of the public and the politicians?

The Poynter Institute took a leading role in responding to the Ebola crisis, evaluating media coverage and providing guidance for accurate, science-based, ethical journalism.

This resource page provides journalists with a starting point for solid coverage of Ebola and other infectious diseases. It includes resources that grew out of the Strategic Reporting Institute on Covering Infectious Disease, which The Poynter Institute hosted on January 21-22, 2015. The workshop was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

For additional resources from the SRI, join the Facebook page Covering Ebola and the Next Killer Contagion.

What Others Are Doing

Global trends in human infectious disease: Rising number of outbreaks, fewer per-capita cases: Harvard University's Shorenstein Center, Journalist's Resource, Feb. 1, 2016.

A selection of media coverage on the Ebola outbreak and accompanying fears.

Why AP Isn't Moving Stories for Every Suspected Ebola Case, October 17, 2014

Top 5 Falsehoods About Ebola, October 15, 2014

Images of Ebola Make Front Pages Around the World

AP to Staff: Exercise Caution over Reports of Suspected Ebola cases, October 3, 2014

102 Down? That’s ‘Ebola’ in The New York Times, July 14, 2014

Key Resources

Poynter Experts Weigh In

The faculty and staff of The Poynter Institute have written extensively about recent coverage of the Ebola outbreak and the fears surrounding it from many angles, including ethics and balance. Here is a sampling of these writings.

Poynter hosted a conversation on covering Ebola on October 23. This replay of the Webinar offers strategies for journalists needing to make sense of this complex story.

Several articles by Kristen Hare provide guidance for journalists covering Ebola:

Hysteria or Proper Precaution — a conversation with Michel du Cille: Kenny Irby interviews a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer about his work covering the Ebola virus in Liberia — and about the decision of Syracuse University to rescind the journalist's invitation to campus. Published on October 22, 2014.

Roy Peter Clark analyzes the climate of fear surrounding Ebola:

Al Tompkins describes how Journalists Struggle to Balance Reporting on Ebola with HIPAA, October 17, 2014

Andrew Beaujon's opinion piece comments on the universities that canceled invitations to journalists who had been in Ebola-affected countries: Opinion: Why It’s so Disappointing That J-schools Are Panicking over Ebola, October 20, 2014

Ken White explains that Media coverage of Ebola requires a delicate balance, October 5, 2014

Web Resources

CDC's National Center for Health Statistics allows you to track trials that are in process or have been completed offers an interactive map of outbreaks and alerts

PubMed is a searchable database of medical literature

Additional Resources

A collection of health resources on the Web, gathered by SRI presenters

Morality in a Time of Ebola, an article in The Lancet by Arthur L. Caplan


Webinar Replays

Covering Ebola: A Poynter Conversation: With all the coverage around the Ebola story, how do you make sense of the news for your audience and tell stories with accuracy, depth and context? This Conversation recording features the full presentation led by Poynter faculty and visiting faculty including Q&A from the audience and resources from the presenter.

The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century: Digital journalism has created a new world of ethical dilemmas; this Webinar replay provides a new set of principles to guide journalists through these challenges.

Grappling with Graphic Images: The Ebola crisis has flooded the Internet and media with images of suffering. This Webinar replay explores some of the issues surrounding the choices that journalists face in using these images. It will help you weigh the ethical considerations and develop a framework for decision-making.

Self-Directed Courses

Ethics of Journalism: The delicate balance of covering an infectious disease, such as Ebola, requires that journalists hone their ethical decision-making skills. This course helps you develop a set of questions and procedures to guide you in making those tough calls.

On the Beat: Covering Hospitals: This valuable course simulates the life of a rookie health-beat reporter, providing the beat-specific knowledge you need to cover the hospitals in your community. As health crises like the ebola outbreak capture headlines, these skills are increasingly valuable.

Journalism and Trauma: Covering a public health scare like an outbreak of infectious disease pushes journalists into situations where they will have to approach and interview trauma victims or their family members. However, the skills needed to interact with trauma victims do not always come naturally. This course will teach you how traumatic stress affects victims and how to interview trauma victims with compassion and respect.