What is ‘Quality’ Vaccine Journalism?

July 12, 2023

A new questionnaire aims to help answer this question

This article was originally published on August 19, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has called attention to the importance of reliable health and science reporting. This type of reporting can have a powerful effect on the public’s understanding of, and attitude toward, scientific topics. However, because health and science reporting often involve the communication of complex or quickly changing scientific information, journalists, editors, and other communicators can find it difficult to assess the quality of news stories.

These communicators often find themselves asking: “What is quality vaccine journalism?” The Analysis and Toolkit for Trust (ARTT), a project led by Hacks/Hackers, the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, and partner organizations as part of the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator, has recently released a new resource, the Vaccine News Quality questionnaire, that aims to help address this question.

Questionnaire Approach

This questionnaire is a unique addition to the world of news quality assessment tools. Recognizing that specialized topics benefit from the specificity of answerable questions, it highlights the key elements that indicate a vaccine news article offers truly informative and accurate information to its readers. The questionnaire accomplishes this with a layered approach to assessment. Through a series of Yes/No questions, the questionnaire evaluates news articles first by the content’s general journalism quality, then by its science/health journalism quality, and finally by its vaccine journalism quality.

Each question in the Vaccine News Quality questionnaire addresses an indicator (or signal) that is commonly found in various disciplines of high-quality journalism. For example, the questionnaire includes questions such as “Does this report refer to an expert in the specific field of scientific study?” and, “If this report cites or links to an academic preprint, does it treat the reference differently than fully reviewed and longer standing research?” Questions are included for both article-level and for source-level assessment.

Ideally, the Vaccine News Quality questionnaire will serve a practical tool to help writers, editors and readers feel confident in their vaccine news quality evaluation skills. We are also interested in potentially using this questionnaire to crowdsource the annotation and evaluation of new articles.

How to Access the Questionnaire

To participate, download the article-level questionnaire in PDF format. The questionnaire that includes both article and source-level questions can be found online. The ARTT team is open to feedback; please feel free to contact us at artt [dot] hackshackers [dot] com with the subject line “Vaccine News Questionnaire.”  

The Vaccine News Quality Questionnaire is a part of the ARTT initiative, which is aimed at providing people in local and online communities with tools that support trust-building conversations when discussing vaccine efficacy and other topics. The questionnaire’s development was informed by academic research, consultation with journalists and technologists, and input from collaborative workshops.

The ARTT team would like to give special thanks to the MuckRock Foundation, the Vaccine Safety Net (VSN) of the World Health Organization, and Wikimedia DC for their support and input on creating this resource.

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