Coronavirus: Journalist FAQs - First Draft
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Coronavirus: Journalist FAQs

Last updated: 11 March 2020

Where can I find the latest global figures about cases?

The below organisations collate statistics and other information about disease.

Where can I find the best advice for readers?

Below are a selection of guides providing vital information detailing how the public should respond to the coronavirus. These will change over time as governments and organisations adapt their responses to the spread of the virus.

How should I write headlines?

  • Lead with the truth rather than a piece of misinformation.
  • Tailor your headline for different platforms, drawing a distinction between headlines found via social media and headlines found via search. 
  • For headlines found via stumbling on an algorithmic feed (for example, Twitter and Facebook), consider that this audience may not have already heard of the rumour you are debunking. Avoid amplifying the rumour by steering clear of keywords and not repeating the myth. 
  • For headlines found via search engine (for example, Google, Bing or even YouTube), the fact that specific keywords were searched means this audience has already heard of the rumour. Amplification is less of a concern here — rather, your concern should be reaching the readers who are searching for the rumour before misinformation purveyors and scaremongerers do. Including keywords or even repeating the myth in the headline (for example, “No, you cannot catch coronavirus from packages”) may be beneficial for getting quality content in front of these readers. 

Further reading: First Draft ethics and responsible reporting guidance.

How do I report on infectiousness (R0)?

  • Pronounced “R naught”, the R0 (reproduction number) of a disease represents its infectiousness – specifically the number of cases an infected person is likely to cause during their infectious period.
  • The R0 of the novel coronavirus is difficult to assess and is likely to change because: many cases are likely going undetected; the infectious period is yet unknown; it’s unclear how the changing immunity of the population after infection will affect future infectiousness.
  • Early in the outbreak, the World Health Organisation determined an R0 of 2-2.5 for COVID-19 in Wuhan. Other sources put it between 1.4 and 4.08.

Further reading on R0:

Should I compare coronavirus to other viruses, and if so, how?

There are advantages and pitfalls to using comparisons with other viruses to help explain coronavirus. Below are some pieces that provide examples of good practice, and arguments for avoiding comparisons that may be unhelpful.

How do I report death rates?

  • When reporting on deaths from COVID-19, it can be useful to also provide information on the proportion of deaths to recoveries, total infections or the current death rate to help readers contextualise and understand the level of threat.
  • It is important to ensure that when reporting death rates you convey any uncertainty around the figures. For instance, the number of unreported cases may make the death rate among confirmed cases appear higher than the viruses’ actual lethality.  

Further reading on death rates:

How can I prevent or deal with vicarious trauma and other reporting-related mental health issues?

  • Avoiding excessive conversations about coronavirus outside of work (eg with family and friends).
  • Simple self care techniques such as creating a Twitter account dedicated to animal videos may help individuals. Similar techniques could also be used by newsrooms on channels such as slack.