As the COVID-19 global pandemic settles into the United States, people are relying even more heavily on news and the media for information. Faculty in the WVU Reed College of Media are not only using this unprecedented circumstance to teach important lessons in the classroom, but they are also sharing their expertise with the public.
Dana Coester, an associate professor and the executive editor for the collaborative media outlet 100 Days in Appalachia, and Bob Britten, a teaching associate professor whose class partners with PolitiFact to fact-check the accuracy of claims by elected officials, have shared tips on how to differentiate fact from fiction online.
“We are already in a disrupted state for receiving credible information,” Coester said. “While social media can be an invaluable tool for informing and organizing community members - connecting us to resources and local efforts underway - it is also a source of mis and disinformation that can seed panic or chaos in a crisis. We urge community members to look to local news and other trusted sources for vetted information on the pandemic.”
“Wanting to believe or disbelieve a piece of information is the single best sign that you need to check something out before proceeding,” said Britten. “If you've identified that ‘want,’ you should have a go-to process for what you do next. Rather than focus on your opinion of the source itself (‘I trust The New York Times’), which can also fall into that ‘want’ trap, try thinking about what makes the information itself trustworthy.”
Julia Daisy Fraustino, Ph.D., assistant professor of advertising and public relations and research director of the College’s Public Interest Communications Research Laboratory is an expert in crisis, emergency and risk communication science with emphases in resilience and communication ethics.
“We are in an unprecedented realm for strategic risk and crisis communication in the United States and around the globe,” Fraustino said. “Emotional messages are becoming a prominent theme in pandemic crisis communication so far. We know that anxiety is the default emotion people tend to feel across all types of crises, so expressing humanity and genuine emotions to break through anxiety and connect with others in the current situation is key. Brands, too, are shifting their communication efforts, for better and worse. Social listening will become even more key for organizations feeling out the content desires and emotions of their audiences.”
On March 26, Gina Martino Dahlia, teaching professor and executive producer of “WVU News,” the College’s student-produced weekly newscast, and Eric Minor, the director of careers and opportunities for the Media College, were featured in a segment on WSAZ in Charleston, West Virginia, that addressed how students can find jobs and internships without in-person resources.
“News reporters are essential employees,” Dahlia said. “So, my reporters are working in a crisis the same as everybody else. I looked at this as an opportunity for them to tell stories from their own hometowns.”
"I'm really pressing students to connect with people remotely on LinkedIn," said Minor. "We have to be respectful of the fact that everybody - their employer and potential employers - are probably working from home. But they should still make connections because at some point this will end."
When teaching associate professor Emily Corio heard Governor Jim Justice announce that public and private schools would close indefinitely, she couldn’t stop thinking about the many grand-families in West Virginia. This is a demographic she became familiar with last year while reporting on a story for the Washington Post that focused on the impact to children in the state as a result of the opioid epidemic.
“Thousands of children in West Virginia are living with grandparents,” Corio said. “Not only are these grandparents navigating distance learning but many are also in the high-risk category for coronavirus.”
Corio worked with interim news director Glynis Board and health reporter Kara Lofton at West Virginia Public Broadcasting on the story. She interviewed sources from her home using the best available technology and tucked herself into her closet to get better sound.
“I had this instinctual reaction that I needed to report on this important story, and I'm glad my reporting will give more attention to this issue in West Virginia,” Corio said. “I feel it's particularly timely for people to consider the circumstances many in West Virginia face when thinking about what’s at stake here.”
The story is expected to publish on WVPB’s website this week. And Corio’s process, including tips for recording from home, will be part of her podcast class this semester. The last podcast episode will focus on the coronavirus and students will report from wherever they are.