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The Key Media Phrase You Need to Know Now

There are two ways for the news media to build credibility with its audience. One way is to admit when it’s wrong – fast, loud, and clear. The other way? To get the news right in the first place.

But when it comes to coverage of the coronavirus, we seem to have been swallowed up by a black hole. That happened back in March, and it’s where we continue to languish. News on the topic has been wall-to-wall, yet there’s still so much we don’t know. And that’s what makes coverage of this pandemic so atypical. 

Blame the media? Not so fast.

The quality of information we receive is only as good as the sources. In this case, the sources lack answers. The story feeds off science and health experts, who admit they are learning as they go. 

To recap: Social distancing guidelines from the CDC started at three feet, then moved to three-to-six feet, then six-to-10 feet. Now, one of the most common phrases you’ll see in play is “at least six feet.” 

Those early media reports focusing on three-foot guidelines weren’t wrong. Now? We just all know better.

In the last two months, health officials believed animals couldn’t be infected with the coronavirus. But then tigers, and domestic cats and dogs tested positive. The story changed. That doesn’t mean the news media that had it wrong.

Once upon a time, children were believed to be immune to the infection. And then a 5-year-old boy died from COVID-19. That was in early May. And the news changed again.

Somewhere in between, we tussled over whether or not face masks were necessary.

All things considered, we’ve grown up a lot since February, haven’t we?

One Key Phrase 

Let’s be clear: The news media gets things wrong and when that happens, they need to be held accountable. But in this case, what we’re witnessing playing out in the public domain is basically a drive-by shooting of science. The best the news media can do is simply keep up and remain highly caffeinated.

The evolving nature of the story explains why even nonstop coverage hasn’t satiated the public’s hunger for news on the subject. To fill the perceived void, the media industry has continuously birthed podcasts and daily newsletters tailored to the topic. The focus is starting to shift to how we recover. And as things begin to reopen, advertising is beginning anew.

What we’ve heard time and again over the last few months is that “we are in this together.” The phrase has become so ubiquitous to this historic time that it’s overheard in places like grocery stores and gas stations, all the essential places people are allowed to go. But there is one other phrase that is vital to keep top of mind, and it’s this: “What we know now.”

Pay attention when the media uses it. It’s key to understanding what information just changed.

What we know now is vastly different than what we knew two months ago. Keep up, use a variety of news sources to stay as best informed as you can, and stay safe. 

– Jaci Clement, jaci@fairmediacouncil.org

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