What should the media learn from coronavirus?
The coronavirus is “a nightmare scenario” for media, wrote New York Times columnist Charlie Warzel. “It is stealthy, resilient and confounding to experts. It moves far faster than scientists can study it. What seems to be true today may be wrong tomorrow.”
Warzel is right. We’ve talked a lot in recent years about fake news. But combatting information we know is false is a straightforward problem compared to covering a story where we don’t know what’s true, and where yesterday’s expert consensus becomes tomorrow’s derided falsehoods. In these cases, the normal tools of journalism begin to fail, and trust is easily lost.
There’s been a lot of criticism of what the media missed in the run-up to coronavirus. Some of it has been unfair. But some of it demands attention, reflection, and change. There’s also a lot the media got right, and those successes need to be celebrated and learned from. The questions raised here are hard, and go to one of the trickiest issues in journalism: how does a profession that prides itself on reporting truth cover the world probabilistically? What do we do when we simply can't know what's true, and when some of what we think we know might become untrue?
Warzel covers the way technology, information, and media interact with and change each other. He’s one of the people I turn to first when I’m churning over these questions, which is…not infrequent. And so what you’re going to hear in this podcast is a bit different than the normal fare: this is less an interview-with-an-expert, and more the kind of conversation that I — and others in the media — am having a lot of right now, and that I think we at least need to try and have in public.
What went wrong with the media’s coronavirus coverage? by Peter Kafka, Recode
What we pretend to know about the coronavirus could kill us, by Charlie Warzel, NYT
The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
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