According to a new study from the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, reporters working their beats need to stick to local sources when talking about COVID-19 and ongoing pandemic measures, otherwise they may further alienate community members already wary of government public health officials.
From the story, published on the Institute’s website: “While demographic factors — such as age and race — and partisanship explained some variance in views about vaccination and public health recommendations, anti-elitism accounted for more than a third of this variance. Though partisanship has been seen as an important factor in the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, this finding indicates the story is more nuanced, especially given that the media — one of the primary purveyors of public health information — is itself considered “elite” by many who hold anti-elitist values.
However, the results demonstrated that the effect works both ways; an increase in trust from “elitist” information sources corresponded with an increase in favorable attitudes toward public health recommendations and vaccination.
“One of the core problems with scientific solutions for COVID-19 is that those who develop them and communicate about them are distrusted by a significant percentage of the population,” Luisi said. “Now we know that much of that distrust can be explained by anti-elitism, which is prevalent enough to undermine our ability to achieve herd immunity.”
According to the researchers, this rise in distrust can be tempered if local newspapers and reporters write stories geared towards what the local health officials are doing, and not what the “elite” are doing. Seeing what is being accomplished in their own backyards, without mentioning such entities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), could lead local folks into following more pandemic guidelines, and eventually an end to the pandemic in rural America.
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