The COVID-19 pandemic has taken over the world — and the news. To help arm journalists with knowledge and tools to cover the virus and the health, social and financial crises it is causing, the Knight Center is offering the free online course “Journalism in a pandemic: Covering COVID-19 now and in the future.”
The MOOC (massive open online course) runs from May 4 to 31, 2020 and will be offered simultaneously in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French, taught by award-winning science journalist and author and TED speaker Maryn McKenna. Sign up now!
This free training program is organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, in partnership with UNESCO and the World Health Organization (WHO), with support from the Knight Foundation and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Availability in Spanish and Portuguese, and tailor-made activities to Latin American and Caribbean journalists, are possible thanks to UNDP support.
The four-week course, divided into weekly modules, will cover:
- Week one: The history of pandemics and disasters in the 20th century. The module will also look at whether governments planned for future pandemics.
- Week two: Covering COVID-19 now. What has happened with the pandemic in the past four months, especially concerning healthcare crises, international supply chains and debates over social distancing and mask-wearing. How have different governments responded? Finally, how important is freedom of expression and detecting misinformation and disinformation?
- Week three: Hope for treatment and vaccines. What are the competing claims for treatments of the disease and what is the timeline to finding a vaccine and antibody test? What is the role of hype and media bias in advancing and debunking proposed treatments?
- Week four: The way forward. The final module looks at story angles for moving coverage forward and answering questions about how COVID-19 has changed our world. It will also look at journalists’ self-care in the process.
But, why should journalists take time for the course when they already have a busy schedule covering the pandemic?
“This story is so big: It incorporates not just epidemiology and clinical care and biomedical research, but politics and finance and commerce and many other topics,” McKenna, the MOOC instructor, said. “I’m a science journalist who has spent my career writing about epidemics, yet I am having to learn new things every day — and I think many other journalists will be in the same position.
“But, beyond the expertise question, there’s an emotional issue too. Those of us who are covering COVID-19 are forced into a deeper understanding of how dangerous this virus is, much more than most members of the public have to contemplate,” the award-winning science journalist added. “It’s hard not to feel at risk, hard not to be afraid for your loved ones and friends. At a time such as this, to have a professional community to share the burden makes a big difference. We hope this course will create one.”
“Free, independent, plural and professional journalism is more relevant than ever during this unprecedented global health crisis we are all facing,” said Guilherme Canela, chief of the UNESCO’s Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists Section. “Journalists are key professionals in keeping citizens informed with verified facts about the emergency, in fighting disinformation and misinformation and in holding governments accountable regarding the measures being taken to address the present pandemic. Therefore, this MOOC couldn’t be more timely, by establishing a tailor-made dialogue with journalists about key elements necessary to carry on, with safety, quality reporting about COVID-19.”
Canela also noted that the MOOC will start during the World Press Freedom Day week. “It isn’t a coincidence, rather it is an intentional way of paying tribute to all media professionals covering these challenging times,” he said.
“This is the most ambitious project in the 17 years of the Knight Center’s distance learning program and we are grateful to the United Nations agencies that are helping us in this global emergency and to Knight Foundation, our major funder,” said professor Rosental Alves, Knight Center’s founder and director. We are also grateful to Maryn McKenna, an outstanding journalist and author specializing in science and health issues, who will lead this MOOC.”
McKenna is a journalist focusing on public health, global health and food policy and is a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory University, where she teaches health and science writing and narrative. She is the author of the books “Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats,” “Superbug” and “Beating Back the Devil.” Her 2015 TED Talk, “What do we do when antibiotics don’t work any more?” has been viewed 1.8 million times and translated into 34 languages.
McKenna is a contributor for WIRED and writes for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, National Geographic, Mother Jones, Newsweek, NPR, Smithsonian, Scientific American, Slate, The Atlantic, Nature, and The Guardian, among other publications. She has received the 2019 AAAS-Kavli Gold Award for magazine writing, the 2019 John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Communication, the 2014 Leadership Award from the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and the 2013 Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences. She was a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale in 2018 and a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT in 2013-14.
McKenna will teach the course with support from scientists and other journalists as guest speakers and assistant instructors who speak Spanish, Portuguese and French. Data-journalist Amanda Rossi, who has been covering the pandemic for the Brazilian magazine piauí will lead the version of the MOOC in Portuguese; Federico Kukso, a science journalist and author from Argentina, will be the assistant instructor in Spanish; and Yves Sciama, a science journalist from France and president of the French Association of Science Journalists, will be the assistant instructor in French.
The course consists of video classes, PowerPoint presentations, readings, quizzes and discussion forums.
Students who successfully complete course requirements have the option of paying an administrative fee of U.S. $30 to receive a certificate of completion in PDF format. The Knight Center will evaluate the cases of students who need a waiver of that fee. No formal college credit is associated with the certificate.
Like all Knight Center MOOCs, the course is asynchronous, meaning participants can take it in the days and times that best suit them. However, there are recommended weekly deadlines to complete activities so as not to fall behind.
In this unprecedented pandemic, as well as the health and economic crises, many journalists are being taken off their regular beats or given additional reporting duties to cover the virus. The course will also speak to those professionals who do not normally cover science or health beats.
“Coronavirus is the only story in the world right now, so it makes sense that people are coming into it, or being reassigned to it, from many other beats. I hope this course can help them get up to speed,” McKenna said. “But also, I hope they will bring their expertise to the course community, too. As this new normal rolls forward, coronavirus will also be a food story and an education story and a story of urban planning, among other angles — and people who cover those beats and others can help the rest of us see what stories might be possible.”
Register for the course today and make sure you’re prepared to cover the biggest story of our lifetimes.