Finding diverse sources for your COVID-19 reporting

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico, The Washington Post and other outlets.

Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr

Photo: Marco Verch via Flickr

News organizations continue to grapple with ways to include in their stories more COVID-19 experts from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

Last year, AHCJ highlighted groups that have created databases in recent years to encourage reporters to extend their perspectives and typical networks. For specific COVID-19 experts, here are a few more places to look.

In March 2021, The Open Notebook updated one of the most detailed and comprehensive tip sheets available to journalists, directing reporters to multiple places as well as providing strategies for finding diverse experts when covering science. The publication, which first published its tipsheet in June 2020, noted that the onus is on all journalists to do the work to expand their sourcing:

“Be sensitive … to the fact that people from historically marginalized groups should not be expected to take on the emotional and time-consuming labor of helping other reporters solve the problem of lack of diversity in their sourcing,” wrote the editors of the Open Notebook. “If it’s possible to find needed information by doing your own research, it’s best to do that.”

The publication also called for editors to do more to both support writers in their efforts to include a diverse set of racial and ethnic voices in their stories and push writers to diversify their sources.

Another place to look for sources is COVID-19 experts list on The Journalists Toolbox, published by the Society of Professional Journalists and includes a link to Black COVID-19 Experts on Twitter created Anna Gifty Opuko-Agyeman, a doctoral student in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Another resource is the Diverse Sources Database created by National Public Radio, which has a wealth of curated experts broken into categories specific to covering COVID-19 including irology/immunology, viral transmission/infectious diseases, origin of disease, health policy, human decision making, medical and health care workers, mental health, misinformation, racial and ethnic disparities, COVID impact on special groups, drug and vaccine distribution, treatment and vaccine development and global and international health. The database also allows you to search for an expert by a specific state.

This Diverse Sources Database has been around since 2012 and is regularly updated. NPR created it to improve its source diversity across its public media system, though it reported that in 2018, the most recent year that it had data, sources on its weekday newsmagazine shows were 83 percent white and 67 percent male.

The Editors of Color website has a database of diverse databases, which includes 21 organizations with science and health experts where journalists can find everything from women virologists to evolutionary biologists.

AHCJ members, we also welcome suggestions of places for health care journalists can look to expand the diversity their sources. Please email me at: bara@healthjournalism.org.

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