The Press and the Pandemic: Tips from Pulitzer Winner Laurie Garrett

April 1, 2020
DESCRIPTION: Laurie Garrett is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with more than three decades of pack-leading experience writing prescient and piercing stories on the global threat from emerging infectious disease, from HIV through Ebola to COVID-19 and beyond.

Here, Garrett breaks away briefly from her nonstop writing on a real-time catastrophe for a special conversation with fellow journalists (and some journalism schools) to offer tips on how to avoid consequential mistakes and shape coverage in new ways that can provide more impact. (The event is open to the public but questions from journalists and then journalism students will be taken first.)

Around the world, journalists were already facing an unprecedented array of challenges -- from shrinking budgets to presidential attacks on their credibility -- even before a novel viral disease emerged in Wuhan, China, in November and explosively spread around the world. Now, reporters and editors, from the biggest papers to the smallest regional radio stations, are being thrust into covering the causes and consequences of a pandemic with vast and still-evolving social and economic impacts.

Garrett will warn that such reporting is a challenge akin to writing on war, but worse -- in that every story has the potential to directly affect people’s lives. “If I get one bit of information inaccurate, it could cause the wrong kind of panic,” she said in a recent online conversation with Andy Revkin and the Iranian journalist Peyman Naeemi.

This biological war zone is everywhere, with the “front” existing in every public market, health clinic, and neighborhood. And the challenge is worsened because questions far outnumber answers, with rushed studies pouring into social networks with little advance review.

This is the first of a planned series of online workshops for journalists on pathways to more effective coverage of this pandemic and other planet-scale public health threats. The workshops are being facilitated by the Earth Journalism Network and conducted as part of a wider-ranging series of webcasts on COVID-19 solutions produced by Andrew Revkin, who is a veteran environmental journalist and the founding director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute Initiative on Communication and Sustainability.