Local news reporters cover a lot of different stories and are used to writing about a wide range of topics. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, media outlets not only had to manage an increased demand for news with limited resources, but also sift through a huge amount of ‘fake’ news about the virus.
Faced with the challenge to report on the Covid-19 accurately, the Media for All project team responded to the emergency by developing a tailored training and mentoring programme for selected local media outlets across the Western Balkans.
International health and science reporter Kerry Sheridan ran a series of workshops for participating media outlets. She said: “Since early in 2020, news outlets around the world have had to scramble to cover coronavirus, many without their own dedicated science and health journalists.
“Our goal through the Media For All Programme was to share some best practices for journalists, show reporters how to find accurate source material, and give tips on how to find and interview the right experts in order to put this evolving situation into context.”
Sixteen local media outlets across the region, based in provincial towns that would most benefit from mentoring and training in how to produce relevant, fact-based content about the pandemic, took part in the programme.
In partnership with Albany Associates, we also delivered workshops on how to combat fake news through content verification. These sessions were well attended by journalists across the region, who found the training to be really helpful, in particular in how to spot fake videos and photographs and how to fact check.
Combatting fake news and misinformation
Mentors were assigned to each outlet to advise on developing story ideas on topics related to the Covid-19 crisis, including health, education, environment, economics, sports, domestic violence, politics and human interest.
Zaneta Skerlev, a mentor for the outlets, commented: “I helped the reporters put the news into context and make it more relevant for their audiences. We featured human stories about how Covid 19 has affected people, from the day in the life of a nurse, how a store owner nearly lost his business and how parents of disabled children were coping with the restrictions.”
The mentors worked with all types of media outlets, online, tv, radio and digital, and they tailored their approach according to the needs of each outlet. A key challenge was that many outlets operate with small numbers of staff and Covid-19 itself affected both mentors and trainees.
“At two of the outlets I was working with experienced journalists, so they didn’t require as much practical support as the third one where I was mentoring younger people. However, one of the most important results is that we discussed different approaches to reporting. I also helped the teams with their management and organisational skills so they could manage their time more effectively to produce a better product. With my tips and the practical skills learnt, one editor did say he has seen an increase in readership of their Covid 19 stories,” said Sasa Lecovic who trained three outlets.