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Challenges for Media During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By Laura Dolejs

Chattanooga, Tenn. (— People around the world are currently at the receiving end of non-stop news updates about the coronavirus pandemic. From smartphones to televisions, newspapers and magazine covers this continuous feed of information has incited panic in some people and indifference in others.

Spreading the word about COVID-19 has become the most important topic in journalism recently, and the media now faces the new challenge of reporting on a potentially deadly pandemic without driving their viewers to over or under react.

The news media can be perceived as an authority figure as they are often the only method of transmission between the leaders of a country and the people. In times of distress, people turn to authority figures for guidance. If people have a lack of trust in their authority figures or those in charge, this raises their concerns and may provoke panic responses.

Crystal King, a senior at UTC, said she didn’t take the reports about COVID-19 seriously at first. With plans to visit Ohio over spring break, King had no intention of cancelling her flight until she found out the governor of Ohio had ordered all restaurants to close. King now closely follows the reports on the pandemic.

“I feel like being uneducated and misinformed is quite dangerous right now,” said King. “If we want to stay healthy and have life back to normal then we must stay informed in order to make sure we are doing our part in stopping the spread.”

Customers look at sanitizing wipes on the shelves of a pharmacy in New York on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. As coronavirus infections spread across the globe, everybody has to make a decision: How worried should I be about getting infected, and what should I do about it? (AP Photo/Marshall Ritzel)

As Americans’ views on the coronavirus change, so does their behavior and responses to this outbreak. The news media must continue to report the facts on the spread of this virus without inciting panic that would cause people to put themselves at more risk.

“I think since it is a national issue, the facts should be reported from the healthcare administrations, CDC, and WHO on a national level by actual experts in the field,” said Gwen Jones, a mother of three children in the elementary school system. “I do not think the president or local government officials have the knowledge required to report on health issues of this magnitude, and they tend to put their opinions into the reports instead of the straight facts.”

CDC test kit
A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. (CDC via AP)

Mike Shuford, the executive director of the Chattanooga Convention Center, said he has relied heavily on the news for information on COVID-19 and he has taken the reports of the pandemic seriously from the start.

“If it wasn’t for the media, people wouldn’t even know about the coronavirus,” said Shuford.

The information provided by the news is critical to Shuford, because he has to make decisions that affect the people he employs and those that visit the Convention Center. The fact that this is an election year is not lost on Shuford and he thinks this may be affecting some of the reporting.

“Take politics out of it and deal with the issue,” said Shuford. “Perhaps if this wasn’t an election year things would be different.”

A resident is removed from the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing Monday, March 30, 2020, in Gallatin, Tenn. Multiple people tested positive for the coronavirus at the facility Friday. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued a statewide “safer-at-home” order on Monday to help stem the state’s rapid spread of coronavirus, mandating the closure of all nonessential businesses while urging residents to remain at home whenever possible for the next two weeks. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Lynn Cross, a Chattanooga chiropractor and mother of two boys who attend a school downtown, feels that the news is trying to report accurately, but thinks they should have done more to encourage people to stay inside. Cross has closely followed the news media and social media outlets for information about COVID-19, but most of her information was received from a friend who works as a nurse at a Chattanooga hospital.

“I don’t think people took it serious enough from the start,” said Cross. “I am glad that more people are starting to see the light, but I don’t feel like it’s enough.”

As the U.S. heads into harder times dealing with the pandemic, King and other members of the community look to the news for hope.

“I want to start hearing more about how we are looking in terms of finding a vaccine and new ways of preventing the spread,” said King. “All I keep hearing now is how the next two weeks are about to be the worst yet and it’s all doom and gloom. I need some more positive coverage during these times.” 

About Laura Dolejs

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