Welcome to the Nieman Foundation’s Guide to Covering Pandemic Flu

UPDATE 11/4/14:

In recent remarks to the current class of Nieman Fellows about covering Ebola, longtime medical reporter Helen Branswell noted that it's worth remembering "every story is a lot more complicated than we think it is." A 2011 Nieman Fellow who reports for The Canadian Press, Canada's news agency, Branswell also mentioned that Ebola stories are constantly drawing in new readers so it's important to repeat basic background information.

This guide to covering pandemic flu includes information relevant for reporters covering Ebola, particularly the sections that discuss different types of science reporting and how to cover a global story working the phone.

This Web site is a one-stop resource for reporters, editors and newsroom managers trying to navigate the complex and at times confusing details of the flu story. Most of the information is relevant for any influenza pandemic, extending beyond the 2009 H1N1 virus.

It is written and edited by journalists, for journalists.

The menu bar on the left will help you navigate the information on this site. Topics you will find in this guide include:

An Introduction to Influenza
An overview of the disease, from seasonal to pandemic influenza, including definitions on what causes a pandemic, the derivation of the name, and responses to some common misconceptions about the flu.

The Science
Essential information about the basic biological mechanisms that drive both seasonal and pandemic flu: why there are different types of influenza, how the virus mutates efficiently into new strains, how it crosses the species barrier, what journalists need to know about swine flu and avian flu, and important details about the science behind vaccines, antiviral drugs, and masks and respirators.

Pandemic Preparedness
An outline of the major arguments driving preparedness efforts; overview of the challenges of preparing for and responding to a pandemic as addressed on various levels: global, federal and state governments, communities, individuals, businesses, and the sciences; plus some basics on understanding medical and non-medical interventions.

Pandemic Reporting
Stories of struggles, observations, insights, tips and story ideas from veteran flu reporters including Helen Branswell, The Canadian Press; Maryn McKenna, independent journalist; Maggie Fox, Reuters; Margie Mason, The Associated Press, and Alan Sipress, The Washington Post.

Crisis Communication
A rare view into the inner world of public health message-making, including frank accounts by communication specialists from WHO and the CDC; tips from an epidemiologist on how journalists can deal with all the uncertainties in this story; insights into how people may react in a severe pandemic and how officials plan to manage panic; and some observations by a leading risk consultant on how emotions shape what we think and do about risks and on what journalists—and officials—are getting wrong about this pandemic.

A History of Pandemics
A quick overview of past pandemics that shape current discussions—the Spanish Flu in 1918-19 and the swine flu scare in 1976—as well as other pandemics.

Glossary
A list of the major terms used by officials and scientists, and their definitions.

Resources & Links
A list that will help journalists sort through some of the major Web sites and online resources that provide information on various aspects of the flu story.

About this Guide
A quick note from the editor on why we thought it important to produce this guide, and our thanks to all those who helped put it together.