The pandemic has led to a demand for more practical information from news outlets. That’s shifted coverage.

“Local broadcasters have doubled down on the real information needs of community: from holding local officials accountable to FAQs, explainers and fact-checks; news-you-can-use like what’s open and closed; humanizing the local impacts and the local heroes; and connecting communities in need to solve local problems,” Frank Mungeam, who teaches TV news innovation at Arizona State University, wrote in a May 2020 analysis of TV news trends brought on by the pandemic. In other words, he said, “It does NOT need to bleed, to lead.” 

Because audiences need to know what’s happening with school closures, the pandemic has also fanned interest in the education beat

Experts in science, medicine and public health are also now routinely sought out by journalists to answer questions about COVID-19. The National Association of Science Writers curated an email list and other resources to help reporters, especially those new to the health beat, find the right sources for their COVID-19 stories. 

Finding the right expert, like viral immunologist Kizzmekia Corbett, Ph.D., and asking the right questions is key to keeping your audience informed in a rapidly evolving public health crisis. (Photo: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

But one problem that’s cropped up, especially on TV, is a mismatch between health-related topics and expert guests. Jeff Jarvis, an author and the Leonard Tow Professor of Journalism at Newmark J-School, compiled a list of epidemiologists, virologists, infectious disease doctors, geneticists, biologists, public health people and science journalists, and asked four of them, “What are we doing wrong?” Their answer: “You’re asking me the wrong questions. If you’ve got a virology question, ask a virologist, not an epidemiologist.” Now Jarvis prefaces his interviews with this question: “What should I be asking you? What do you know about?”

This original research is a project of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

Reporters: Matthew MacVey ’16, academic program specialist; Geraldine Baum, assistant dean of External Affairs

Editors: Beth Harpaz, editor for research content and website manager for CUNY website SUM; Amy Dunkin, director of Academic Operations

Website: Rosaleen Ortiz, designer