The Coloradoan and its journalists are here to help you make sense of what’s happening amid the coronavirus so you can stay informed, safe and healthy.
As the coronavirus pandemic has evolved, the Coloradoan has worked to cover a story unlike any other we have faced.
Our newsroom has changed — from our physical location to how we stagger shifts to provide more coverage while working with reduced staffing.
Our stories have changed — we shifted away from long-term plans to better cover the rapidly-developing pandemic.
Two things that have not changed: Our ethical principles and our commitment to transparency with you, our readers.
We’ve received various questions and feedback about our coverage and wanted to take time to answer some of those concerns and shed light on our reporting process.
Feedback: You’re biased.
The criticism of bias in the media is not new — nor is it unique to any one topic we report on. Typically, however, when readers express concerns of bias in our reporting, it is related to political viewpoints.
With coronavirus, we have seen the term “bias” being used in relation to topics other than politics. It’s important to understand that journalists are real people, with real feelings and real opinions. Bias is inherent in human nature. There is no one without bias toward or against something. The mark of a good journalist is being able to check that bias at the door and not let it influence their reporting — or if that cannot be done, to step away from a story and pass it along to someone else.
As an organization, we feel it’s important to be upfront about our organizational biases and to acknowledge they do guide and impact our reporting:
- We are biased toward facts: We are biased toward evidence and science. It is our job to vet facts and present our community with facts to inform their personal opinions and viewpoints. As such, we feel it’s important to remove misinformation — which can spread rapidly online — from our platforms and to not repeat misinformation in our coverage.
- We are biased toward public safety: Just like you, we live in this community. This leads to our commitment of providing everyone with information critical to public safety free to read in times of crisis. As part of this commitment, we must report on our government’s efforts toward containing coronavirus. This includes the closing of industries, and the potential lasting effects on certain sectors; and the reopening of businesses. This bias does not mean we agree or disagree with public officials, it means that we are committed to reporting on topics critical to public safety and informing readers on public health laws and recommendations made by experts.
- We are biased toward bettering our community: We want Fort Collins to be a vibrant city for decades to come. Just like you, we don’t enjoy when businesses close. However, reporting these stories is important to provide residents with a complete picture of the economy. We want our city to succeed in its mission to be “world class” in many areas. In order to achieve those goals, we need to hold our leaders accountable and follow up on progress made, realizing that “world class” means different things to different people.
Question: In breaking news situations, shouldn’t you hold off on reporting anything until the breaking news has subsided and everyone can ensure information is 100% accurate?
We report factual information to our audience as we learn it. When we get new information that provides readers a better understanding of an evolving situation, we update our initial stories as soon as possible.
We don’t feel it’s right to withhold information from the public that we have vetted to the best of our ability.
In regard to coronavirus, science doesn’t move at the speed of a 24-hour news cycle. Our nation’s health experts are learning more about the virus on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Withholding the best available information because it might change at some future point would have far-reaching public safety complications. It would be a matter of life and death for some, and we cannot take those risks.
Coronavirus is also the longest breaking news story many of us have ever covered. Most breaking news situations reach a conclusion in a matter of hours or days, not months or years. What’s true today might not be true next month as more is learned about the virus.
It is our job to provide you with the best information we have at the time and to update you as soon as we can when and if that information changes.
We cannot be trustworthy watchdogs for our community if we withhold information from you.
Question: Your commenting guidelines say you moderate comments for misinformation. But with coronavirus, things are true today that could’ve been considered misinformation six weeks ago. How does that process work?
We feel it’s our job to help facilitate constructive conversations on our platforms. Just like we do when we report a story, we also feel it’s important to stop the spread of misinformation.
In a public health crisis, this role becomes more critical. If misinformation is being spread — which can happen quickly on social media — it can endanger lives.
We moderate comments armed with the knowledge of the best available information. And we walk a delicate balance of preventing misinformation while still allowing criticism and opinion. Disagreements are welcome, spreading falsehoods is not.
Any comments that cite reliable sources will not be removed. But assertions that are not based on fact or science will be moderated.
Question: The state data keeps changing. How can we trust it?
We have the same frustrations with the state data as you do. The numbers change, or they are adjusted retroactively.
We are getting this information at the same time as the public from the state health department’s website, and we work to fact check any discrepancies we find and update and explain them as soon as we are able. We will always be transparent with you if reporting is corrected or changed and note it clearly in our stories.
You’ll notice our charts depicting the curve on state and local levels vary slightly from the state information. We plot data and numbers effective of the date it was released to the public. We feel it’s important to track the data as it’s reported, versus relying on changing graphics from the state.
Public health data concerning patients is not all public record. For example, death certificates are concealed from public release by law. Therefore it is not easy for us to glean cause of death information. We applaud the whistleblowers — like the coroner in Montezuma County — who have access to these records and bring this information to light.
We are working now on a story with local county coroners to further contextualize coronavirus death data and provide an accurate picture of the pandemic in our community. Stay tuned for that in coming weeks.
Feedback: I’m tired of coronavirus news. Can you report on something else?
We hear you. And completely understand the sentiment. We are working to provide more “normal” coverage of Fort Collins moving forward.
We will still be covering coronavirus and its impacts on our lives, public safety, the economy and more, probably for years to come. However, we are working diligently to continue to cover the public health crisis and balancing that coverage with our regular reporting efforts.
Jennifer Hefty is an editor at the Coloradoan. Other questions? Concerns? Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jenniferhefty. Support her work and the work of the Coloradoan’s 15 other journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
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