Sometimes ‘Out Of An Abundance Of Caution’ Is Also The Right Way To Report

Chuck Holmes sent out a guidance note last evening that read, in part:

“Two reports emerged Wednesday, one from Dallas and the other from Los Angeles, of people placed under medical care as a precaution because of possible exposure to Ebola. Neither is a confirmed case of Ebola.

“We can report what we know about these instances, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. As the disease spreads and the CDC take precautions like airport screenings, it is likely that more people worried about possible symptoms and concerned about possible contact with the disease will seek diagnosis and medical care. We’re likely to see more of this in the days and weeks to come. …

“These instances bear watching. But until the CDC confirms a case, they do not warrant more than a passing mention in our coverage, as Jeff [Brady] did of the Dallas deputy in his ATC piece tonight. And Eyder [Peralta] may mention the cases in a Two-Way blog post he’s working on the very phenomenon of the spreading public concern over Ebola.”

That’s a way of thinking about how to approach coverage that we can copy and paste into our planning in other situations. What Chuck was saying, in essence, was that developments need to be put into context — and sometimes that context will lead to a decision by NPR not to turn something into “breaking news” even if some of our competitors are.

We’re likely to hear again, it appears, that “out of an abundance of caution” somewhere in the U.S. someone is being tested for Ebola. Hopefully, there will be few if any cases confirmed. Treating each report of someone being tested as significant news could make listeners and readers feel as if the disease is sweeping the nation when in fact that’s not the case.

The teams that have been covering the Ebola news have been layering context and perspective throughout their reports. They’ve applied NPR’s standards and practices to a complicated and difficult story. Thanks.

(Memmos; Oct. 9, 2014)

October 9, 2014

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