We held our second virtual #BrusselsCalling media debate on 8 May, with a focus on COVID-19. Cambre Associates CEO Victoria Main quizzed leading healthcare and science journalists from Italy, Spain and the UK on how COVID-19 has disrupted their working lives. Check out these 10 takeaways from Adriana Bazzi (Corriere della Sera), Emilio de Benito (El País), Deborah Cohen (BBC), Clive Cookson (FT) and Kate Kelland (Reuters) on their challenges and frustrations:

  1. COVID-19 research is becoming “speed science”: Much research on the coronavirus is published instantly without being peer-reviewed. This makes it difficult for journalists to identify the truly sound studies and report the latest facts accurately.
  2. Coronavirus is dominating the news at the expense of other big stories: Journalists are missing out on many newsworthy stories in the healthcare and science area as they are busy with covering the pandemic. This could be detrimental to society.
  3. Data on COVID-19 is non-standardised: The lack of a standardised approach on data collection between and within EU member states makes cross-country comparison difficult and raises the question of how the real impact of the virus can be assessed.
  4. The news bubble around COVID-19 is vast: Journalists are reporting on the development of the virus itself as well as the implications on the economy, healthcare systems, global relations, working conditions and social life. This reporting involves massive media resources.
  5. Even the scientists are at odds: The science community is working around the clock to get to grips with this unprecedented virus. Yet, contradictory information and findings abound, leading to journalistic challenges in reporting the facts.
  6. Newsrooms are full of instant experts: Journalists covering healthcare and science are often the only ones at their outlet with relevant qualifications and experience. But this doesn’t stop their colleagues and editors wading in with ‘expert’ advice. Much time is spent dealing with this input.
  7. “Corona-fatigue” isn’t yet in sight: Journalists see a bottomless appetite for coronavirus-related stories, even if they themselves would love to cover something else.
  8. People are more accessible in times of Zoom: Interviews can now easily be conducted via video calls in a trend which is facilitating access to experts. This may stay a vital part of journalism even after the crisis.
  9. Focus on coronavirus may harm the healthcare sector long term: The dominance of COVID-19 in the news agenda poses a threat over time to the attention and funding given to the management of other diseases.
  10. Be smart when contacting journalists: Take care to offer an interesting or exclusive angle. Stay relevant. Keep emails short and punchy, starting with the subject line. Never phone to see if the email has landed.