Trusted info is magnified in crisis

In these tumultuous, chaotic times, the new corona­virus pandemic has spawned shortages of such essential products as face masks, protective garments and ventilators.

One thing is available in abundance: Information.

In the age of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, information on the coronavirus is everywhere. So much information is out there that the World Health Organization described it as an “infodemic.”

The problem, of course, is that a lot of the information is incorrect. Some of the misinformation comes from scams; half-truths twisted into a political viewpoint also impede the battle against this disease.

To counter the misinformation, the Public Relations Society of America has launched INFOdemicRx. The New York-based organization, of which I am a member, prescribes three antidotes for countering the misinformation.

First, focus on the facts.

Second, obtain those facts from trusted sources. The PRSA lists two of them: the World Health Organization (www.who.int) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).

Their home pages will guide you to information specifically about the coronavirus outbreak and the disease that it causes, COVID-19.

Two other sources are vitally important to us in Central Pennsylvania.

The first is the Pennsylvania Department of Health, headed by Dr. Rachel Levine.

The Health Department’s website, www .health.pa.gov, has facts on the disease, where it is most prevalent in the commonwealth, and how to slow its spread so that it does not overwhelm our health systems.

You are looking at the other trustworthy source, the Altoona Mirror. Local journalism remains strong in our region, and the Mirror has stepped up its game in the current crisis. The reporting has painted a full picture of the disease in our region and the state as a whole.

To single out one example from an impressive body of work, William Kibler’s March 28 story on Rachel Allison’s experience with COVID-19 communicated how debilitating this disease is, even for a young person who was not hospitalized.

The Mirror is not the only local outlet covering the outbreak. Our locally based television station, WTAJ, also has pulled out the stops to inform and assist the community.

So those are the four trusted sources: WHO, CDC, the Pennsylvania Health Department and our local media. Beyond them, national media such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the national television broadcast stations are worthy of trust.

They follow the time-honored traditions of journalism and stick to reporting the facts.

Cable news stations such as Fox News and MSNBC are not trustworthy. From the right and the left, they offer up stories that are slanted to conform with their political and philosophical perspectives.

Social media are a lousy source for coronavirus information. Most commonly, stories from cable news channels are slanted even further in Facebook or Twitter postings.

The third recommendation of INFOdemicRx is to check the reliable sources of information three times a day because everything changes so quickly. Another sound piece of advice would be to check them only three times a day, to avoid anxiety in a situation that requires patience and perseverance.

We are at war with a deadly enemy, and we have no natural protection from it except for keeping a safe distance from others. Propaganda and misinformation are the allies of the enemy.

We can win this war, but we need to rely on information from reliable sources to gain the victory.

A journalist for more than 50 years, Don Clippinger is president of Korotkin Enterprises Inc., a Blair County public-relations firm focusing on crisis communications.


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