Reporting and Covid-19: Tips for Journalists

Tips and tools to report safely and effectively during the coronavirus pandemic, updated regularly following Dart Center webinars.

The Dart Center is hosting a series of online conversations about reporting amid the coronavirus pandemic. Each week, subject experts and journalists provide advice ranging from reporter self-care and equipment sanitation techniques, to ethics concerns and methods for telling stories about resilience and grief. 

Webinar guests focus on strategies to synthesize constantly changing and critical data from multiple sources. Whether viewed in real time or in hindsight, we are working together to support and educate journalists during this rapidly changing, multi-faceted and unprecedented global crisis.

What can reporters do to cover this crisis most effectively? What are the stories that need to be told today and tomorrow, next week and next month, and over the long haul? How can journalists do their work safely given the restrictions on movement and in-person contact?

Scroll down for excerpts, and click the links below to read each tip sheet.

Covering Covid-19 on a State and Local Level

Guest: Irwin Redlener, MD, Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute, Columbia University

Find the sweet spot between complacency and panic. Start by getting a handle on policy. 

Click here to read the tip sheet.

The Day the Pandemic Arrived: Reporting Lessons from America’s first hotspot

Guest: Florangela Davila, News Director at Seattle’s NPR affiliate KNKX 

Be prepared to reinvent decades of proven working practices in days, and to deal with a lack of capacity and equipment.​

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Learning from Past Pandemics: Bridging the Science Gap

Guest: Caleb Hellerman, Documentary filmmaker, longtime supervising producer to Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CDC Fellow

The time to develop source relationships is in between crises. The time to use them is now. Be wary of arm chair epidemiologists and try not to be enthralled with experts. Use your reporter’s gut.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Learning from Past Pandemics: Covering Ebola

Guest: Jina Moore, Freelance writer, reporter, producer

A valuable fixer may be one of, if not the, most important relationship for a reporter filing from a war zone or from other dangerous places. 

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Watchdog Reporting on the Pandemic

Guest: Aaron Glantz, Senior Reporter, Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting

Report on who wins and who loses financially, and which sectors of the economy are getting the most help. Also look into the efficacy of systems set up so that people can get relief – are they working?​

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Documenting Death: Obituaries in the time of Coronavirus

Guest: Ari Goldman, Professor, Columbia Journalism School

Basic journalism tenets are especially important. Don’t tell us about a person’s life. Show the reader, viewer or listener how the person lived each day, what was important to them, who they loved and who loved them.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Self-Care and Peer Support for Journalists During a Global Pandemic

Guest: Cait McMahon, Managing Director, Dart Centre Asia Pacific

Create, in your own mind’s eye, a safe place. Include auditory and physical sensations. Keep the image of the safe place in your mind.

Go there for five or 10 minutes each day. Imagine fragrances and sounds – use as many senses as you can. Your brain won’t know if you’re really there or not. Practice this on a daily basis.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Photojournalism and Covid-19: Ethics, Craft and Safety

Guest: John Moore, Senior Staff Photographer and Special Correspondent, Getty Images

Sensitive material – like photographing a daughter seeing her father for the last time – requires craft judgements to avoid being voyeuristic or sensational.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Filmmaking and Covid-19: Ethics, Craft and Safety

Guest: Francesca Tosarelli, Documentary Filmmaker

If you report with respect and then share the final product with your sources, including distressing scenes, relationship building continues.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

The Rise of the Security Champion: A Playbook for Newsrooms and Reporters

Guest: Jennifer Henrichsen, a fellow with Columbia's Tow Center for Digital Journalism and a PhD candidate at the Annenberg School of Communication

Become a Security Champion: a reporter who is passionate about digital security, who pushes more and asks less for permission from other colleagues and editors

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Coronavirus and Social Justice Reporting: Dispatch from Texas

Guest: Dianne Solis, Senior Immigration Reporter, The Dallas Morning News

Undocumented immigrants want to tell their stories. Solis hears from people every day who need help, including veterans, and people who are frozen in the process of applying for a green card. 

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Safety Know-How for Journalists Covering Protests During a Pandemic

Guest: Judith Matloff, Veteran conflict correspondent, author, and Columbia Journalism School professor 

Vigilance and preparation are crucial to reporting during a protest, especially during a pandemic. Don't plan to linger. Instead, to the extent that it’s possible, plan out narratives and frame shots ahead of time. Come prepared with a specific reporting strategy as well as contingency plans. 

And throw competition out the window.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

The Serious Risks Posed to Young Children by Pandemic Isolation

Guest: Cecilia Vaca Jones, Executive Director, The Bernard van Leer Foundation and former Minister of Social Development, Ecuador

Stresses to healthcare systems in countries trying to stave off the Covid-19 pandemic may quickly leave vulnerable people lacking essential nutrition, and missing routine vaccinations. For very young children, the negative consequences of missing critical milestones could last a lifetime.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Involving Children and Families in Reporting

Guest: John Woodrow Cox, Enterprise Reporter, The Washington Post

Start with the adults. Give kids the power. Make space for chaos. Lean on your reconstruction muscles, especially from a distance. Do a huge amount of pre-reporting. In the published story, children's voices should come first.

Click here to read the tip sheet.


Resilience: More than a Buzzword

Guest: Steve Southwick, MDProfessor of Psychiatry at the Yale Medical School and the Yale Child Study Center, Adjunct Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Medical Director of the Clinical Neurosciences Division of the National Center for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.

Fear itself is not the problem. The problem is letting fear linger for too long without actively coming up with a plan to deal with it. 

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Reporting on Aging and Covid-19

Guest: Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, Dean and DeLamar Professor of Public Health Practice, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; Senior Vice President, Columbia University Medical Center

Weaknesses in the health care system have been compounded by weaknesses in leadership. And those have contributed to downward trends in the state of public health in this country.

Click here to read the tip sheet.

Last updated: July 7, 2020