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Flu Portal curates trusted H1N1 content

Katie Donnelly

In today’s noisy and often confusing news environment, a central role for public media is to provide credible, reliable information to a broad range of citizens. FluPortal, a CPB-funded project, led by PRX in collaboration with NPR, is designed to do just that.

A centralized hub of reputable content that “provides public media with news, information, and web tools to respond to the H1N1 flu outbreak," the site has been active since August 2009. The FluPortal team collects and curates content from across public media as well as from trusted government sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization and Flu.gov.

According to NPR Health Editor Joe Neel in this January 28 Webinar on FluPortal and Crisis Reporting:

In a public health crisis, I think the most important role that public media can play is to disseminate accurate, trusted information. We build on an enormous reservoir of trust from our coverage for so many years of all of these various health crises in providing just that – accurate information. Because the public gets very skittish when they start hearing that, oh, there may be 100,000 deaths this fall or this winter, and that just leads to some unnecessary panicking. And if we can put it into the proper context, I think that is our role.

Neel advises reporters in the field to make as many connections as they can with the public health community, remain skeptical at all times, and find trusted sources that can "guide you to the right place."

FluPortal includes a wealth of H1N1 content, including Web tools and embeddable content; national, state and local resources to inform public media coverage; and the FluPortal blog, which is updated four or five times per week. The FluPortal team has integrated their comprehensive H1N1 knowledge into a variety of public media 2.0 tools, including widgets, feeds, and maps, and also employ social media platforms like Facebook, delicious, and CoverItLive to disseminate content. FluPortal's newest H1N1 public media widget, powered by Daylife, aggregates related coverage from across public media. This tool is configurable as well as powerful, and can be adaptable to other crises and situations beyond the H1N1 crisis.

FluPortal's "For Station Websites" section provides both tools and guidance for public media outlets. Tools are divided into three catgories: "Quick" (resources for sidebars), "Easy" (ready-to-use embeddable content), and "Big" (comprehensive, customizable packages). FluPortal also includes an extensive, curated list of resources for public media news directors, editors and reporters.

However, FluPortal is more than just a website full of widgets and badges – it is a comprehensive effort to develop tools, insights, and best practices for responses to future crises. As the H1N1 crisis subsides, FluPortal.org producers are shifting their focus from website to project.

For example, the FluPortal team has also developed introductory guides to social media tools for stations to use inside or outside of their H1N1 coverage. According to Josh Andrews, technical advisor, developer, and blogger for the project, "Stations will best be able to use tools in crisis if they are familiar and confident with using them on a regular basis."

Over the next two months, FluPortal will be up and running, but content is going to be geared toward the future, as FluPortal moves towards serving as a public media model for incorporating timely, trusted coverage in future crises.