Information is key in surmounting any crisis. Of prime importance is getting the right information, especially when there is too much of it courtesy of the Internet and local gossip.
The Inquirer Group of Companies (IGC) kept this in mind during the COVID-19 pandemic to get the right information to the people through government information as well as its own network of sources.
But the IGC and its multi-platforms — the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Inquirer.net, Inquirer Radio, and social media accounts — went a step farther with the Inquirer COVID-19 Information Desk (Infodesk), which was created to help people quickly find answers to urgent questions.
The Infodesk was the Inquirer Group’s way of helping the people through credible, timely, and relevant information to keep themselves, their families, and communities informed and safe. “Keeping people and communities informed and safe” became the mantra that guided the Infodesk through its months-long run.
Providing immediate information
Launched on March 20, when the government put the entire Luzon under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), the Infodesk was a response to readers who found their lives profoundly disrupted by the lockdown.
As authorities scrambled to deal with the pandemic, their challenge was to communicate government guidelines and actions to the people. IGC saw the opportunity to help.
For 101 days, the Infodesk did its best to respond to the people’s queries, which peaked whenever Luzon and Metro Manila — the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak — transitioned to the next phases of the community quarantine. Readers sent questions to the Infodesk through e- mail, social media, and more. Volunteers from IGC gathered and filtered the questions, while Philippine Daily Inquirer researchers, editors, and reporters secured official, verified information to answers the questions on the Infodesk microsite.
The Infodesk responded to 620 questions from overseas Filipino workers and stranded locals and foreigners desiring to get home, mothers concerned for their stranded children, a solo parent inquiring if she could bring her toddler along when buying essentials, and even a doctor wanting to do volunteer work in the province.
All told, the Infodesk received 2,624 questions from people needing information on how their stranded loved ones could return home, how to pay their employees, whether they qualified for government cash aid and doles, whether they could leave their homes, and what to show authorities at the checkpoints.
The power of perseverance
Getting information during the crisis was an exercise in perseverance. Researchers and editors had to find the guidelines issued by the government as well as the policies announced in virtual press briefings, then study and provide easily understandable answers.
When questions went beyond the information provided by the government, editors and reporters turned to their sources for guidance.
The Infodesk also produced infographics and reminders to help the public understand the pandemic. This included informing people how COVID-19 patients recovered from the illness and how much hospital confinement costs a COVID-19 patient.
The Infodesk also published the hotline numbers of government agencies and the names of hospitals needing donations such as food, medical supplies, and other essentials.
Building essential bridges
At times, the Infodesk served as a bridge to help its readers, such as when a senior couple who lived alone asked how to buy essentials when they (as well as young people) were barred by the government from going outside during the community quarantine. The Infodesk made the barangay in Pasig City aware of the couple’s plight so essentials could be delivered them.
“Our barangay is responding swiftly to our concerns. Many thanks for your support and assistance,’’ the couple said in a message to the Inquirer.
Likewise, the Infodesk, guided by the IGC legal team, helped a pregnant mother in Malate, Manila, who was being evicted because of delayed rent payment.
While it was in existence, the Infodesk ran up 630,000 pageviews and more than 406,000 users. It ended on June 30, but the Philippine Daily Inquirer (print), InqPlus (digital), Inquirer.net (Web site), social media, and other Inquirer platforms continue to provide news and information about the pandemic.