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How To Report Lassa Fever Stories! 10 Basic Tips For Nigerian Journalists

Lassa fever is a disease that is endemic to a number of West African countries. It is an acute, viral disease carried by a type of rat that is common in West Africa. The disease was first discovered in Nigeria, when two missionary nurses became ill with the virus in 1969. Its name is derived from the village of Lassa, where it was first documented. Lassa fever can be life-threatening. It is a hemorrhagic virus, which means it can cause bleeding, although 8 out of every 10 people with the virus have no symptoms. If it affects the liver, kidneys, or spleen, it can be fatal. It is a disease that troubles West African countries seriously. For instance, in some areas of Liberia and Sierra Leone, 10 to 16 percent of all hospital admissions are due to Lassa fever, indicating a serious and widespread impact in those areas.

This makes reporting on lassa fever essential in the society because through reports in the media, people are aware of the disease and how to take precautions against it.

Reporting on lassa fever is one of the numerous areas of health reporting that requires skills and knowledge of story environment. There are basic questions that should guide you while reporting on lassa fever, just like in every other health reporting engagement. These questions are relevant whether you are reporting on health, environment, education or any other specialized area. It was put forward by Nelson (1995) suggested.

  1. Have I made the story “local” so that people can relate to it?

The story should reflect the environment of the audience. If you are reporting on lassa fever outbreak in Nigeria or even across the world, you need to step down the story to let people know how it affects them. You can even use local examples to buttress your point.

  1. Have I added new sources to my list this week?

Sources enrich stories and news sources bring fresh angles to an investigation.

  1. Are the most important aspects emphasized and the trivial discarded?

This ensures that only relevant portions of the story are presented in the report.

  1. Is my presentation clear and concise?

A poor presentation could damage the ‘beauty’ of a story investigated story. Ensure that the story is clearly written and straight to the point. The basic essence of every kind of reporting is to communicate. A poorly written story will definitely “murder” a thoroughly investigated environmental story. Every reporter should learn the basic writing skills, including how to write simple, easy to understand sentences, and how to ensure good sentence and paragraph transition.

  1. Have I made people “feel” the story and conveyed its significance?

The appropriate choice of words could be used to get people to feel a story. Their emotions could be stirred using appropriate words and sentences. The basic facts in the story and its significance should be conveyed through the report.

  1. Do the descriptions and analogies explain the numbers?

This means the story should be meaningful and realistic. Make show the facts in the story have a slight link and they make sense too.

  1. Are the technical terms defined?

Your basic objective should be for the audience to understand your message, not to play to the gallery. If you use jargons or technical terms in your story do well to explain them for audience understanding. If you use technical terms used in explaining lassa fever or its effect find a way to break them down for the audience to understand.

  1. Am I asking and answering enough questions?

Asking the right questions will lead to more relevant findings that make your story very rich. Make sure you ask enough questions on critical issues about the lassa fever investigation. The ability to ask probing questions is an invaluable skill in health reporting. Stories are enriched with facts acquired through effective interview.

  1. Have I been fair to my sources and the subject?

You have a duty to protect your sources and ensure they are correctly quoted. Check whether you made the correct attributions; make sure what you wrote was what they told you. Also ensure that the report has thrown enough light on the subject of investigation.

  1. What would make a good follow-up story to this topic?

There may be need to get ready with story ideas for your next investigation on lassa fever. You check what your present story covered and write out the areas that require further investigations. This will guide you in knowing what aspect of the story to follow up.

These basic questions could guide you on how to follow up facts and present them meaningfully.

In addition to the above critical questions, the following tips provide a goal-oriented guide for effective health reporting, especially on lassa fever incidents (Nelson, 1995; Nwabueze, 2009). These strategies are relevant in heath reporting in developing nations and other parts of the world.

  • Mind for Adventure: Often times, health stories yield interesting facts when reporters probe beyond the surface. The need to probe further requires reporters to be ready to get to any length to thoroughly investigate a story. Mind for adventure takes you to the root of the lassa fever incident, for instance finding out remote cause of the outbreak.

This also has to do with the need for a reporter to have investigative instinct. This means a reporter should already be ready to follow leads. This is because leads open doors to exciting and information investigative reports.

  • Eye for the unusual: When you look beyond the surface, you see the unusual. For instance, an entire nation may be applauding the government for establishing an estate in a particular state which created shelter for workers. But an eye for the unusual provides details of health risks posed by poor sanitation considerations in the estate which could breed rats that cause lass fever.
  • Understanding lassa fever Issues, concepts and Jargons: You need to understand the meaning of lassa fever, causes, prevention, and other facts about the disease. This could help you in knowing what to look out for while investigating lassa fever incidents on doing a feature piece on the disease. You need to do some research on issues and concepts relating to lassa fever disease.

 

  • Learn Effective Interview Skills: The ability to ask probing questions is an invaluable skill in environmental reporting. Stories are enriched with facts acquired through effective interview. The time a reporter has with news sources could be very short. There is every need to make good use of that time by asking the right questions in the right manner. Experts on the health, lassa fever outbreak victims, including government officials could provide revealing information through effective interviewing.
  • Good writing skills: Good stories make no impact when told the wrong way. The basic essence of every kind of reporting is to communicate. A poorly written story will definitely “murder” a thoroughly investigated environmental story. Every reporter should learn the basic writing skills, including how to write simple, easy to understand sentences, and how to ensure good sentence and paragraph transition. The appropriate writing style should be adopted to pass a message across.
  • Consider the target audience: One of the distinguishing qualities associated with good reporting is ability to write with the audience in mind. You are reporting to the general public, not to health experts or scientists who understand puzzling jargons and concept associated with lassa fever. This is why adoption of the simple style is essential in lassa fever reporting. So the journalist needs to first understand health concepts and jargons associated with lassa fever so as to explain an issue to the audience in simple terms.
  • Cautiously Report health Claims, Statistics and Observations: You don’t report every claim in the field of science, especially associated with health disasters and outbreak, as fact. You don’t pounce on claims without at least making efforts to confirm them from relevant sources. This applies to claims such as local cure for lassa fever disease and statistics too. If a herbalist or local medicine man claims to have a cure for lassa fever you should attempt a serious investigation before reporting such claims. If figures being quoted on the number of deaths due to lasser fever outbreak in a community and such figures seem unrealistic to you, seek further clarifications from other sources. If for instance, a specific source says 500 thousand people are at risk of lassa fever outbreak in a community when it seems people who live in the community may not be up to that figure, you need further confirmation from other credible sources. Nelson (1995) further suggests that statistics should be made more understandable by saying for instance “one-out-of-five people”, rather than “20 percent of the population”; or using analogies to further explain statistics by saying the total area affected by lassa fever outbreak is the size of a recognizable town (Enugu, Ogbomoso, or Birnin Kebbi) instead of only describing the affected areas in acres and hecters.
  • Sources are Vital: The sensitive nature of certain facts in health stories requires that sources should be credible and should be mentioned in stories. A story on lassa fever could make far-reaching impact on the audience basically because of the source of the report. Warnings on impending outbreaks could be heeded particularly because of the source of such warnings. This means the health reporter also has to have good and credible sources that provide rich facts on lassa fever reports. Find a way of meaning mutually beneficially relationship with story-rich sources. They can provide cutting-edge leads even on seemingly dry days.
  • Knowledge of the Basic of New Reporting: This entails an understanding of the news values, elements and leads including various approaches to news presentation and forms of mass media writing. You may know what to investigate but what matters is to ensure that the event or issue is newsworthy. This is different from possession of good writing skills. An understanding of the news values will facilitate the application of other points or tips raised so far in this section. Basic journalism skills also entail balancing reports, adhering to professional ethics and other tenets of professionalism.
  • Stay on the story: This calls for follow-ups. Don’t just report an incident as a one-off story follow-up the story by providing reports on emerging facts on the same story. After lassa fever outbreak, continue with reports on for instance, how the victims are faring, what measures the survivors are taking to prevent future occurrence, the medical attention given to victims, among others. Follow-ups could prove more interesting than the initial incident.

 

A reporter who makes use of this guide will do well in the area of reporting lassa fever and other aspects of health reporting.

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, COOU, (formerly Anambra State University), Igbariam Campus.

1 Comment

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  1. Nwoka Victoria Ngozi

    Good one

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