About This Guide

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

The purpose of this guide is to provide journalists with a one-stop resource to help reporters, editors and newsroom managers get up to speed in reporting on pandemic influenza.

History shows that the flu story presents major hurdles for those who cover it—from dealing with common misconceptions about influenza to newsroom tendencies to either hype or ignore the story to the challenges of providing context and clarity on a subject rife with uncertainty, change and confusion.

At the same time, journalists play a crucial role in keeping people informed during an outbreak.

This guide is set up so you can quickly access essential elements of the flu story and learn from veteran flu reporters and editors who have covered outbreaks such as SARS, avian influenza, and the first wave of 2009 H1N1 in spring 2009.

By assembling these facts, insights, and story ideas, we hope to narrow the gap between experienced health and science reporters and their colleagues from other beats and backgrounds who will be newly assigned to this emerging story in the coming months—the first pandemic flu winter in recent history—or anytime thereafter.

We hope this guide will enable more journalists to provide reliable, informative and nuanced coverage that neither sensationalizes nor sugarcoats the news in a pandemic; and that it will enable reporters and their newsrooms to make better informed decisions on which pandemic stories to cover, when, and how.

Finally, this guide can help you, your family and friends stay safe; and it can help newsrooms work out what needs to be done to stay operational during a severe health crisis.

Do let us know how this guide is working for you. And please share what you observe, learn and struggle with as you dive into this complex, constantly changing story.

Thank you for going the extra mile; for exploring this site and trying to report this story as best as you can in what can be harsh working conditions in the news media these days.

In the case of the flu story, your efforts will likely make community responses stronger and help individuals sort out their risks and options. They also may prevent unnecessary suffering and, sometimes, they may save lives.

Cambridge, October 2009
Stefanie Friedhoff, Editor

Editor's Note: If you would like to contribute an article to this guide, e-mail me at stefanie_friedhoff@harvard.edu.

Disclaimer: We have researched, vetted and proofed the information on this site as best we could and with the support of experts and reviewers. If you find an error or a mistake, please e-mail me. Thanks!