Disasters: Do Journalists Get in the Way?

Apr 15, 2011, 7:44 PM

When a disaster hits, should first responders have to jockey with journalists for airplane seats? Do health professionals trust journalists to do an accurate job of communicating critical information?

Those were some of the key discussion points at a conference at the Boston University School of Public Health on Thursday called “When Disaster Strikes: Reporting and Responding.” The conference was co-sponsored with the Boston University College of Communication, the B.U. Center for Global Health & Development and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Elana Zak, a spokesman for the B.U. School of Public Health, broke down some of the issues:

• Journalists and first responders may need to train together before heading to a disaster

• Should reporters be required to have first responder training and credentials before coming onto a disaster site?

• The challenge of keeping a focus on an ongoing disaster when journalists move on to another story.

Among the speakers at the conference:

• Donna Leinwand, USA Today (covered the earthquake in Japan)

• Kerry Sanders, NBC (covered hurricanes, terror strikes in the Middle East)

• Enrique Silva, Assistant Professor of Urban Affairs and City Planning, B.U., (advised Haiti government after the earthquake)

The B.U. School of Public Health live-tweeted the event and plans to post a video of the conference within a few weeks.

Weigh In: What role should journalists play in the coverage of crises? Does their presence help or hinder?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.