Reporting on Epidemics [15 minutes]


Image by Carl Gierstorfer. Bong County, Liberia, Winter 2014/2015.


USAID South Africa: Promoting Awareness that Tuberculosis is Curable. Creative Commons.

Section 1: Ebola
Watch Carl Gierstorfer’s Behind the Scenes of "We Want You to Live" video.
As a class, answer the following questions:

  1. Where did Gierstorfer go and what did he report about for this project? How long was he in country?
  2. Did he get to include everything he covered in his film? How do you think journalists choose what to include in a story and what is left out?
  3. What challenges did hospitals and health professionals face at the beginning of the epidemic? How did that help spread the disease?
  4. How do you think the U.S. healthcare system would handle an epidemic of this magnitude?
  5. What questions would you ask Gierstorfer about his reporting and experience working on the project?

Section 2: HIV/AIDS
Watch Jon Cohen’s Meet the Journalist video.
As a class, answer the following questions:

  1. Where is the video filmed and why did Cohen choose to shoot it there?
  2. What is his project about?
  3. The project includes videos from six different locations. What are those locations and why are they included?
  4. What do you know about HIV/AIDS? Did any of the topics that Cohen highlighted surprise you?
  5. What are the different media and outlets where he is publishing? Why does Cohen want to present his work in more than one place and in more than one format?
  6. What questions would you ask Cohen about his reporting and work on the project?

Section 3: Current Events

  1. As a class, choose a disease, outbreak, or health topic that has been in the news recently.
  2. Each student will select a different news outlet that includes health reporting and identify one story about the issue that was published in the last few months.
  3. Read or watch your story and create a three sentence summary about the piece to share with your classmates.
    • Think about why the journalist is covering that particular disease in that particular location and/or population.
    • Who is the intended audience?
    • Who are the people covered in the story? Who is quoted?
  4. After everyone presents their summaries, identify trends in the reporting about the issue. What are the similarities and differences in the way the topic is covered?
Educator Notes: 

This lesson plan is designed to introduce students to Gierstorfer’s and Cohen’s reporting before the journalists visit St. Louis classrooms. Each section was designed to work as a standalone exercise that takes approximately 15 minutes of class time.

For educators in other locations: Contact the Pulitzer Center education team to be connected with a science journalist online.

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