Tag Archives: avian flu

Journalists discuss reporting from the heart of a pandemic

Recently, New York Times health and science reporter Donald McNeil joined the National Journal‘s Maggie Fox, the Nieman Foundation’s Stefanie Friedhoff and the Canadian Press’ Helen Branswell on a Global Journalist radio panel to discuss reporting on international pandemics and global diseases. The full episode is available to download, listen or watch online.

Host David Reed

Host David Reed

McNeil provided his take on everything from what he packed to keep himself safe from SARS to his take on the accuracy of the movie “Contagion,” but his most relevant thoughts for AHCJ readers were in response to questions about sourcing and a journalist’s obligations in an outbreak situation.

GJ: What are some of the ways you, as a journalist, verify the information you receive, and where do you get that information?

McNeil: … it all depends on the disease. But generally, you get fairly accurate, careful information out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. There are times when you aren’t happy with the information you are getting or the decisions they make, but most of the time, I think they are both extremely careful science-driven organizations.

GJ: In reporting on the potential danger of flu and warning people to stay vigilant, are you ever concerned that some reports from the media might cause panic among people?

McNeil: I don’t see my job as being a public health official; I see my job as a journalist. So my job is to tell the truth, and the truth is basically the one goddess I serve. Obviously, people care about this stuff, so in the same way another journalist who covers the White House wants to tell people accurately what the president did or didn’t do yesterday and what it means, I am trying to tell my audience how dangerous the virus is if it’s a virus, and how many people are killed, and what can be done about it. My job is telling the truth and getting the news out.

Resources for journalists covering flu

AHCJ member Stefanie Friedhoff has led a Nieman Foundation effort to bring together as much pandemic flu material as possible in one spot. The CoveringFlu.org guide not only helps reporters with the science, historical context and journalism involved, but also with practical safety considerations.

Much of the content came out of a 2006 conference, The Next Big (Health) Crisis – And How to Cover It, presented by the Nieman Foundation and cosponsored by AHCJ. It brought journalists together with scientists, public health officials, medical experts, academic researchers, law enforcement officers, public policy experts, and Homeland Security officials to talk about how best to prepare for the possible arrival of pandemic flu.

Read edited excerpts from a lengthy transcript from the event:

AHCJ also has these resources for journalists covering flu stories:

Avian flu still a danger, CDC official tells fellows

This is a guest post from Marshall Allen of the Las Vegas Sun. Allen is among the first class of AHCJ-CDC Health Journalism Fellows who are spending the week studying public health issues at two Atlanta campuses of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Marshall Allen (right), a Las Vegas Sun reporter, speaks to Grant Baldwin, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Injury Center, about interpreting child safety data for localizing stories. (Photo: Christy Stretz)

Marshall Allen (right), a Las Vegas Sun reporter, speaks to Grant Baldwin, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Injury Center, about interpreting child safety data for localizing stories. (Photo: Christy Stretz)

Media furor over avian influenza, also known as bird flu, has died down in recent years, but that’s more a reflection on the news cycle than the actual threat posed by the disease, according to a CDC expert.

That’s the assessment of Dr. Scott Dowell of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s global disease detection program. Dowell spoke Wednesday to a group of 11 AHCJ-CDC fellows, who are in Atlanta to learn about the federal agency’s programs around the world.

Dowell said there is less anxiety about bird flu, also known as H5N1, than there was in the early days of the outbreak, but it still remains a danger. Since 2003, the disease has infected nearly 400 people in more than a dozen countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Near East. Continue reading