Expert Commentary

Covering the Zika virus and local outbreaks: Journalism guides and tips

2016 collection of guides and tip sheets aimed at helping journalists cover the Zika virus accurately and responsibly.


In July 2016, health officials in Florida reported the first local transmissions of the Zika virus, which already has spread throughout parts of Latin America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. As news outlets focus on new infections in the United States, various agencies are providing reports and analyses aimed at helping the public understand and prevent Zika, which is transmitted primarily through infected mosquitoes and linked to serious birth defects such as microcephaly.

Several organizations also have created guides or offered tips and other resources to help journalists cover this important health topic accurately and responsibly. Journalist’s Resource has gathered some of these materials in hopes that media professionals might consider them while planning their ongoing coverage:


“A Guide to Effective Zika Coverage: How to Better Inform the Public”

This downloadable guide from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania explains what it considers to be the three major principles of effective media coverage. The guide includes data as of August 2016 and offers examples of best practices for print, broadcast and online coverage.

 “How to Cover the Zika Virus Responsibly”

This article from The Poynter Institute offers tips for writing about Zika and ideas for new angles to pursue. The article, published in February 2016, warns journalists to avoid certain words and phrases and to watch the “visual language” they convey with photographs and other images.

“The Spread of Zika Virus: A Roundup of Visualizations”

Storybench, a media innovation program at Northeastern University, highlights some of its favorite examples of how data related to Zika can be presented in compelling, visual ways.

“Coverage of Zika Continues as Researchers, Reporters Learn More”

A February 2016 post from Pia Christensen, who is managing editor/online services for the Association of Health Care Journalists, discusses multiple relevant resources for reporters.

“3 Lessons for Covering the Zika Virus Going Forward”

This article, published in April 2016 in the Columbia Journalism Review, encourages the media to focus on the role of mosquitoes, use caution when interpreting statistics and challenge statements from officials.

“Covering Zika in Puerto Rico: Tips for Outbreak Reporting”

Georgetown University instructor Rolando Arrieta, who was part of an NPR team that won a top award for its 2014 coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, offers advice to journalists who plan to travel to Puerto Rico to write about Zika.


Keywords: health crisis, virus transmission, congenital infection, travel, Brazil, U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry, Miami-Dade County, Wynwood