A regional daily’s editor has called on readers to trust the local press after his newspaper exposed “fake news” about the spread of coronavirus on its patch.
Worcester News editor Michael Purton has spoken out after the paper debunked an email which was circulated on social media and showed the coronavirus rate of infection, or ‘R rate’, was dangerously high in the city.
The email, purporting to be from a local doctor, apparently told fellow GPs there had been “six new confirmed cases of Covid in Worcester city in the past 24 hours” and the city was “flagging up red for the Covid R rate”.
When the News investigated, Worcestershire County Council said that not only was the figure of six new cases in 24 hours incorrect, but that there were no R rate figures available for Worcester or Worcestershire – with the closest regional measure being “the Midlands”.
In an accompanying editorial, Michael said the rumours had caused “unnecessary panic” across Worcester.
He added: This is an example of why people should trust local news titles such as the Worcester News and not unverified posts by individuals on social media.
“We wouldn’t publish a claim about coronavirus figures unless we were certain the information had come from an authority such as the NHS or county council.
“When we ask those authorities for such information, they respond because we are Worcester’s newspaper and have decades of history behind us and trained journalists producing our articles.
“Without local newspapers like the Worcester News, these kinds of rumours and ‘fake news’ about Covid-19 would go unchallenged and thus residents may still be fearful today that this city was seeing a spike in cases based on that initial social media post.
“Of course, funding this trusted local journalism takes money, which is why we ask readers to subscribe.”