Dear FPA members,
My name is Damon Scott and I’m a First Draft News fellow located in Florida. Jim Fogler has generously offered to help me distribute my newsletter to FPA members.
First Draft News is a global nonprofit tackling information disorder. The fellowship I’m a part of was launched to focus on the 2020 election and Florida’s outsized role in it. However, the spotlight has naturally been expanded to also cover widespread mis- and disinformation that has grown out of the coronavirus pandemic. The election and the pandemic often intersect, too.
You can read more about the fellowship and my journalism and media background here.
The goal of the fellowship and this newsletter is to support you – the reporters, editors, producers and researchers working in local newsrooms and other corners of the media. Each newsletter will give you a quick look around Florida, highlighting misinformation trends and data voids I’ve observed. I’ll occasionally offer reporting tips and opportunities as well, including ways to avoid the unintentional amplification of misinformation.
Covering the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections have challenged newsrooms in new and overwhelming ways. There’s never been a more important time for reporters and editors to find support and collaborate whenever possible.
I want you to know that I’m here to help, with the full support of First Draft News behind me.
I also offer free online training for anyone working in a newsroom or media outlet. When restrictions on travel and group meetings are lifted (whenever that might be), I will also offer in-person training.
I look forward to collaborating with all of you in the Sunshine State who are working to make the media ecosystem a more healthy one! Enjoy the first run of Florida Trends & Insights below.
Antibody testing; contact tracing
Florida has begun distribution of antibody tests to frontline and health care workers — 200,000 at first. This is happening in concert with Florida laboratories offering their own tests, often with an out-of-pocket expense to patients (depending on insurance).
(Testing for the virus itself is ongoing).
There’s a data void/service journalism opportunity here as there are many questions on social media about antibody testing and contact tracing. Who will have access to testing? How reliable are the tests? What does it mean if you test positive or negative for the antibody? What impact will the results have on state policy, if any?
Many of the same questions apply to contact tracing – there is confusion online about how it will be implemented and how the results will be used on the ground.
Ex-felon voting rights; voting by mail
A federal trial ended early this month to determine whether ex-felons in Florida would be required to pay court and administrative fees before being allowed to vote in the 2020 elections. Florida voters approved Amendment 4 in 2018 giving ex-felons (formerly under a lifetime ban) the right to vote. The challenge to the amendment would make 775,000 ex-felons ineligible.
The implication for Florida elections, which are determined by the slimmest of margins, is high. The judge on the case has signaled he will rule at least part of the state’s argument unconstitutional.
Whether main-in ballots are good, bad, effective or otherwise (especially in the world of coronavirus) continues to get thrown around on social media. Interestingly in Florida, there is at least some bipartisan support for it in the lead up to the November election.
But there is a misinformation trend here that largely began when the president called mail-in voting “corrupt,” which generated a coinciding reaction and reinforcement from various Florida Facebook groups. In addition, there is an ongoing concern over the history of rejected mail-in ballots — – happen disproportionately among younger and minority voters.
Outrage outbreak, aka “the mask thing”
A trend deemed “outrage outbreak” has been connected to mask-wearing guidance and regulations. In Florida, like other states, situations have emerged where wearing a mask, or not, is now considered a social and political statement — and has become increasingly volatile. The general stereotype is that those who wear masks are against quickly reopening Florida and lifting restrictions (and those who enforce mask-wearing are against civil liberties). The other end of the spectrum are those who refuse to wear masks — they are the ones who want restrictions lifted quickly and states fully open. Members of this group often describe the pandemic a conspiracy or hoax.
Here are a couple reporting tips from the First Draft team regarding masks:
- Consider updating old reporting your outlet has that detailed mask regulations, if those regulations are now out of date. Research what the mask regulations are in your area and understand how they will affect your audience.
- Investigate conversations on social networks in your area and what their discussions on this issue are centered around.
Please share this newsletter with your colleagues and connect with me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re interested in scheduling a training, please contact First Draft fellowship manager, Nancy Watzman, at email@example.com.
The First Draft national team also offers a Slack community and webinars to support newsrooms across the U.S. and keep audiences informed. Click here to join our press pool on coronavirus coverage.