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Journalism in a pandemic:

Covering COVID-19 now and in the future


May 4 - May 31, 2020


Instructor: Maryn McKenna

A free online course by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNESCO, with support from the Knight Foundation and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP)





Welcome to the Knight Center's new MOOC, "Journalism in a pandemic: Covering COVID-19 now and in the future." During this four-week course, you will learn about the social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of the course, you will have learned the history, present state, and hope for treatments of COVID-19 and more. (This course is also being offered in Spanish, Portuguese, and French. )

Registering in the platform is easy. Please follow these steps:

  • 1. Create an account in the Journalism Courses system. Even if you’ve taken a course with us before, you may need to create a new account. Check to see if your previous username and password work before creating a new account.
  • 2. Wait for a confirmation in your email indicating that your account has been created. If you do not receive this, please check your spam folder.
  • 3. Log into the platform, scroll down until you see the course listings, and click on the “Journalism in a pandemic: Covering COVID-19 now and in the future” course.
  • 4. A button will appear. Click “Enroll” to enroll yourself in the course. You will be able to access the course from the “My Courses” menu at the top of the page.
  • 5. You will receive an email confirming your enrollment.

Please add the email addresses journalismcourses@austin.utexas.edu and ryansagare@utexas.edu to your address book to ensure you receive emails about the course.

In this four-week course, attendees will review the recent history of the COVID-19 pandemic, examine the past warnings that could have prevented or mitigated it, review excellent journalism done to this point, hear from scientific experts from academic research and from the World Health Organization regarding key things to know to begin or continue covering COVID-19, and come away with an extensive menu of tips and recommendations for doing their own stories on the pandemic, no matter their experience or beats. The course will provide journalists with tools to dispel disinformation, misinformation, and myths created around COVID-19.

At the conclusion of this course, attendees should be able to:

  1. Integrate knowledge from many sources to understand the history of the COVID-19 pandemic to this point,
  2. Evaluate competing claims made for new scientific research and analyze its usefulness to the course of the pandemic,
  3. Relate the main story lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to their particular beats and interests, whether medical, political, social or financial,
  4. Understand the perils of disinformation and misinformation around COVID-19, as well as dangers to freedom of expression and journalists' safety,
  5. Design a plan for covering COVID-19 from this point, applying the local context of their newsrooms and political systems,
  6. Participate in a worldwide community of journalists covering COVID-19 in order to share insights and practical experience.

Introduction module:

This module will provide an overview of the course, including the syllabus, a promo video and a welcome video explaining what students will learn week to week.


Module 1: Where did COVID-19 come from?

This module will cover the past history of pandemics and disasters in the 20th century, examining how the world responded to influenza, smallpox, polio and HIV, and will ask whether governments implemented plans they made to respond to future pandemics, and what was missed.


Module 2: Covering COVID-19 right now

This module will examine the unfolding of the 2020 pandemic in its first four months, addressing healthcare crises, international supply chains, and debates over social distancing and mask-wearing, with special attention to how governments with differing levels of resources have responded in different parts of the world. It will also address the importance of protecting freedom of expression and detecting and combating disinformation and misinformation about the pandemic.


Module 3: The hope for treatments and vaccines

This module will examine the competing claims for treatments or COVID-19, including drugs now on the market as well as those entering trials, and will explain the timeline to achieving a vaccine and an antibody test intended to prove immunity. It will also examine the role of hype and media bias in advancing and debunking some proposed treatments.


Module 4: Coronavirus: The way forward

The difficult reality is that COVID-19 may have changed societies forever in ways both small and large, from whether we shake hands to how we structure family living situations, conduct education and distribute food. This module will propose the most important story angles to be considered, across a number of beats, in the weeks, months, and two years from the current moment. It will also address the critical issue of journalists’ self-care as the emergency continues.

Maryn McKenna is an independent journalist who specializes in public health, global health and food policy, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Human Health at Emory University, where she teaches health and science writing and narrative. She is the author of the 2017 bestseller BIG CHICKEN: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats, which received the 2018 Science in Society Award and was named a best book of 2017 by Amazon, Smithsonian, Science News, Wired, Civil Eats, and other publications (and is published outside North America under the title Plucked) and the award-winning books Superbug and Beating Back the Devil. She appears in the 2019 documentary Resistance Fighters, which won top prizes at the Vancouver and Paris film festivals, and the 2014 U.S. documentary Resistance, and her 2015 TED Talk, "What do we do when antibiotics don't work any more?" has been viewed 1.8 million times and translated into 34 languages. She is a contributor for WIRED and writes for The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, National Geographic, Mother Jones, Newsweek, NPR, Smithsonian, Scientific American, Slate, The Atlantic, Nature, and The Guardian, among other publications. She has received the 2019 AAAS-Kavli Gold Award for magazine writing, the 2019 John P. McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Communication, the 2014 Leadership Award from the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, and the 2013 Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences. She was a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale in 2018 and a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT in 2013-14. She lives in Atlanta.

The COVID-19 epidemic is the only story in the world right now; it contains every beat in the newsroom. Thus this course should appeal to journalists with a wide array of experience, from science and medical journalists accustomed to covering infectious diseases to generalists for whom the intricacies of disease tracking, clinical trials and vaccine regulation are new territory.

This course only requires you to have access to an Internet connection and a web browser.

First of all, note that this is an asynchronous course. That means there are no live events scheduled at specific times. You can log in to the course and complete activities throughout the week at your own pace, at the times and on the days that are most convenient for you.

Despite its asynchronous nature, there are still structures in place for the duration of the course.

The material is organized into four weekly modules. Each module will be taught by Maryn McKenna with the assistance of guest speakers and assistant instructors speaking Spanish, Portugese and French, and will cover a different topic through videos, presentations, readings and discussion forums. There will be a quiz each week to test the knowledge you've gained through the course materials. The weekly quizzes, and weekly participation in the discussion forums, are the basic requirements for earning a certificate of participation at the end of the course.

This course is very flexible, and if you are behind with the materials, you have the entire length of the course to complete them. We recommend that you complete each of the following before the end of each week so you don’t fall behind:

  • Video lectures
  • Readings and handouts/exercises
  • Participation in the discussion forums
  • Quizzes covering concepts from video lectures and/or readings

A certificate of completion will be available for those who meet all of the course requirements. After confirmation of course requirements, the Knight Center will send a message with confirmation that you fulfilled the course requirements and qualify for the certificate. A certificate of completion is available for those who meet all of the course requirements, and pay online an administrative fee of $30 (thirty U.S. dollars), using a credit card. Once your payment has been confirmed you will receive an email with instruction on how to download the certificate. No formal course credit of any kind is associated with the certificate. The certificate is awarded by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas to attest to the participation in the online course.

To be eligible for a certificate of completion, you must:

  • Watch the weekly video classes and read the weekly readings
  • Complete weekly quizzes with a 70% minimum score. (You can retake the quizzes as many times as needed. Only the highest score will be recorded.)
  • Create OR reply to at least one discussion forum each week

At the end of the course, we will verify whether you have met the course requirements or not. And then, if you meet them all, we will send you a message with instructions on how to make your payment and download your certificate. The verification process will take three to five business days.

Please add the email addresses ryansagare@utexas.edu and journalismcourses@austin.utexas.edu to your address book to ensure you receive emails about the course.




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