During the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is a corresponding “infodemic,” a surfeit of information and misinformation that makes it difficult for the average American to find the facts they need to navigate the ongoing public health crisis.
In an effort to combat the deluge of misinformation, New Mexico in Depth (NMID), an online-only news publication based in Albuquerque, has convened a cadre of experienced reporters to separate fact from fiction and keep readers up to date on breaking news about the pandemic online and via a New Mexico Coronavirus Updates Facebook group.
The University of New Mexico connection is strong in the NMID newsroom.
Current moderators of the Facebook group page and reporters include UNM adjunct faculty Gwyneth Doland, Ph.D. candidate Lissa Knudsen, and alumni Marjorie Childress, Celia Raney, and Bryant Furlow.
Marjorie Childress, NMID deputy director, serves as an editor and reporter. She holds master’s degree in Community Planning from the UNM. She has been a guest on New Mexico in Focus on the PBS station KNME.
Gwyneth Doland is a correspondent for New Mexico in Focus on KNME and a contributor to NMID. An award-winning reporter, she is term faculty at UNM teaching Communication and Journalism.
Bryant Furlow is an Albuquerque-based medical journalist and frequent contributor to The Lancet medical journal. ProPublica, an award-winning nonprofit newsroom known for rigorous and thoughtful journalism, is funding a year-long investigative reporting project by Furlow at NMID focused on health care in New Mexico.
Lissa Knudsen is a public health reporter at the New Mexico Daily Lobo. She's spent more than a decade in the field of public health and policy, holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health, is a board member of the New Mexico Public Health Association, and is a Health Communication Ph.D. candidate at UNM. Her work primarily is centered on the social determinants of public health and reproductive justice.
Celia Raney graduated from the UNM in 2019 with a degree in multimedia journalism and English writing. Some of Raney's multimedia work has been republished by national news and entertainment outlet Circa, New Mexico broadcast groups KOB, KRQE and KOAT.
As New Mexico reacts to the outbreak, readers can share information on the Facebook page and ask questions to keep up with the latest reporting and resources. Readers are also invited to tell stories about how their own family, friends, and workplaces are reacting to the virus, and share resources with members. Not permitted on the page are unverified speculation about COVID-19, advertising posts, memes, or personal attacks. The page is intended to help disseminate fact-based information and to offer a place for the community to ask questions and share resources.
The Facebook page is a public space and reporters may contact readers for a potential story or newsletter based on their posts and comments, and any member of the group can read what readers write.
“This group allows us to hear directly and in real time from readers about their concerns and questions. I think it represents a more nimble and interactive two-way flow of information than traditional news reporting platforms,” Furlow noted.
“In normal times, journalism is vital to the health of a democracy. In times like this, access to independently verified information could be a matter of life and death,” Doland said.
“Student journalists are journalists who also happen to be students,” Knudsen said. “Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, while some of us are transitioning into new housing arrangements, pivoting to online learning — as instructors and as students — connecting to Wi-Fi in school parking lots, connecting with each other via WhatsApp and Zoom, we are continuing to break news.
"Our perspective is genuine and community-focused. I am glad to be part of the team that is moderating the COVID-19 Facebook page and am honored to represent student journalists across the state.”
In the meantime, reporters are struggling, putting in long hours to keep up with the vast quantities of news and information coming in constantly from around the state, the state and federal governments, and public healthcare resources. Recent articles include a plea from Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez asking tourists to stay away, an article about the “indifference to the plight of those incarcerated in state prisons during the pandemic, a report on the limited capacity of ICU beds in New Mexico hospitals, and messages from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
“Bandwidth is a huge challenge. We’re trying to report, interview, develop sources, obtain documents, and write while keeping track of the science and policy responses to the pandemic,” Furlow said, adding “The tips-to-reporter ratio right now is nuts. Talk about bandwidth issues!”
Furlow looked ahead at the pandemic and its effects.
“It is very hard to say at this moment what the duration and severity will be. We now have confirmed cases of community spread but most New Mexico cases still involve travel to affected areas. We are starting to see the early signs of exponential increases in case count but that probably reflects improved testing rates and resultingly better detection of cases that have been in the state,” Furlow observed.
Following safety measures is important to not only individuals but also for the state’s healthcare system.
“It’s just incredibly important that everybody who can do so stay home for the coming few weeks to avoid catching or spreading this disease. New Mexico hospitals are not ready for the infection rates seen in Italy and New York. That would overwhelm our systems of care,” Furlow said.
Among NMID’s partners are KUNM, the state’s largest public-radio station, which reaches an estimated 108,000 people each week, and the New Mexico News Port, a student journalism lab based at UNM. As part of their course work, students produce stories, videos and photos for the lab’s website.