Monday, January 31, 2022

Research suggests local journalists quote local experts, not Fauci et al., when discussing pandemic health guidelines

Rural journalists are charged with keeping readers informed about the coronavirus pandemic, but widespread skepticism of government-endorsed public-health measures makes it difficult (as rural Minnesota publisher-editor Reed Anfinson can attest; see this story from last week).

Soon-to-be-published research suggests a solid approach to making public-health information seem more trustworthy to readers: Quote local sources such as doctors or health-department administrators instead of "elite" sources such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, Austin Fitzgerald reports for the University of Missouri's Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. So advise Associate Professors Monique Luisi and Ben Warner, who analyzed the results of a survey of more than 3,000 adults about attitudes concerning coronavirus vaccines, politics, and trust in public-health recommendations.

The findings "were striking. While demographic factors — such as age and race — and partisanship explained some variance in views about vaccination and public health recommendations, anti-elitism accounted for more than a third of this variance," Fitzgerald reports. "Though partisanship has been seen as an important factor in the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, this finding indicates the story is more nuanced, especially given that the media — one of the primary purveyors of public health information — is itself considered 'elite' by many who hold anti-elitist values."

So, local newsrooms are likely best served by quoting local sources and citing local impact. "When people hear about the burden the virus is creating in their community or learn about what their local health department is doing, they are more receptive," Luisi told Fitzgerald. "And a more receptive audience could mean more lives saved."

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