As journalists worldwide struggle to meet the demands of covering the COVID-19 virus and its impact on our health, cultures and economies, this year’s Kiplinger Fellows, all working in the field on these stories offer other journalists some advice on how to manage stories, sources, time and personal health.
We are grateful for them for sharing and caring.
Kristi Eaton, freelancer, Tulsa, Oklahoma:
As a freelancer, I’m always thinking of story ideas and looking around for ideas. Lately, I’ve been culling ideas from friends and family and using social media, even more, to gather ideas and learn about what editors are after for coverage.
Tegan Bedser, digital media specialist, SABC, Johannesburg, South Africa:
It is an extraordinary time. There are challenges, but there are also opportunities. Use it to embrace change, upskill and innovate.
Amelia Robinson, columnist, Dayton Daily News, Dayton, Ohio:
My advice to other journalist is to pace yourself. There are one million angles to this story and you can run yourself ragged trying to do them all. Don’t do that. There is only one you. Concentrate on what you can reasonably do and do it well.
Mark Oprea, freelancer, Cleveland, Ohio:
As a journalist here in Cleveland who has lost, since March, all six of his main clients, my only piece of advice to freelancers is to open up their minds to other sources of income. For example, I was just awarded one of PEN America’s Emergency Fund grants, which I’m super, super thankful for, and also have a potential gig lined up at a local university.
Times are tough. As of now, I haven’t sold any big pitches. Almost no publication here is accepting them or doling out assignments. Nearly every reporter covering the coronavirus must, therefore, ask themselves: How I supplement the limited income I may receive from my Covid-19 stories with work I may not do otherwise? How can I put aside my writer pretension and put my finances before career advancement?
Marianela Toledo, reporter, CNN Espanol, Miami, Florida:
First, question the narrative. Although there is no clear answer to how the virus mutated and spread among people, we – as journalists- should have to start to question the story of the bat soup a while ago. This is not hard to do; numbers usually tell a different story or show clear gaps.
Ask for numbers and figures, they not only help views/readers to understand but also, as I said help you find gaps and question the narrative.
Our industry has changed. I can do so much with the cellphone, we need to be prepared with digital tools more than ever.
Sage Van Wing, executive producer, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland, Oregon:
My advice is good writing can go a long way to fill in the gaps. It’s getting harder and harder to find good scenes for audio stories these days, and our ability to go out in the world is restricted. There’s a lot of creativity that we’ve been able to harness – such as asking subjects to record audio from their lives for us – but fundamentally, the best way to get around that is to write creatively into the audio you do have. And to be transparent with a listener about what you were able to get and why.
La Risa Lynch, Independent Journalist, Chicago, Illinois:
It’s hard to get color over the telephone. Asking people to describe their empty coffee shop seems counterintuitive. I didn’t realize how “personal” journalism is. Making personal connections with the person you’re interviewing is very germane to the storytelling process especially when you ask people to bare their soul about how Covid-19 is affecting them.
Beatriz Pascual Marcias, Reporter, EFE News Agency, Washington, D.C.:
Don’t give up when you are trying to do a video story on vulnerable communities, such as immigrants in rural areas or those who are in prison. Their stories are always worth telling.
Take into account that they may not have internet access and if you want to use Zoom, you will need to find some help. Your ally can be a younger family member who has a smartphone or activists that would be willing to lend his/her laptop to the interviewee for a couple of hours.
Be aware that sometimes video might not be possible, but maybe you can use some photos of the interviewee with audio. Just don’t let difficulties deter you and… use your imagination!
Michael Ertl, output editor, BBC World Services, London, England:
Science does not have all the answers about Covid-19 (yet). Neither do politicians or journalists. Yet, in a crisis like this, the public turns to us for answers about possible treatments, vaccines, and what lies ahead in the coming months. As in any piece of reporting, we need to “get it right” – despite the uncertainty inherent to a new disease like this.
The pandemic is a challenge and an opportunity to question how we approach this uncertainty. More than ever, we need to be humble and clear in our reporting about what we know and what we do not know, to scrutinize governments while being fair and transparent about the questions we cannot answer.
Sharon Lindores, editor/producer The National Post, Toronto, Canada:
Overall, this experience seems to have reinforced the importance of some basics – preparation, accuracy, sources and good communication.
Preparation: This experience reminds us all that we should always be ready to work remotely and to have a Plan B if technology doesn’t run smoothly. (I’m thinking of how quickly our newsroom was sent home and that many people hadn’t worked from home before, which brought some unnecessary challenges in an already challenging time.)
Accuracy: There’s a lot of information being thrown around and at a critical time like this it’s even more important than ever to be extra careful about everything. Are numbers accurate and up-to-date, are claims of what medications might be able to do backed up by science etc.
Sources: Good sources can be very helpful at a time when everyone’s scrambling and also when the government may be restricting comments to daily briefings etc.
Communication: It’s always important, but even more so if the entire team is working remotely and in a challenging time. Try to be clear and efficient, but don’t forget to make an effort to be human too. Sometimes calling others, or setting up one-to-one chats can be better than emails. With everyone working remotely there’s not the same everyday chat and exchange of ideas as there is in a newsroom. And also, everyone is dealing with the stress of the situation differently – not to mention some are now caring for children, or elderly/vulnerable friends and family, or may be isolated on their own and may be immune-compromised themselves, etc. in addition to juggling work from home. Checking in with others, just to see how they’re doing, can be helpful and go a long way to keeping things running smoothly.
Todd Van Luling, senior culture reporter, Huff Post, Chicago, Illinois:
The increased workload during this time of coronavirus has forced me to figure out better time management.
One of the things I’ve learned in this pursuit is that repeatedly switching between tasks can decrease productivity. For years, I’ve used reading the news on my RSS feed as a momentary break when I’ve reached a particularly tricky task. Now, I push through on those tasks instead of giving up. I save looking through my feed for a bulk reading session at the end of the day. I might miss out on the breaking stories of the day for a few hours, but I’ve found my productivity has caught up to this challenging moment.
Kevin Z. Smith, executive director, Kiplinger Program, Athens, Ohio:
With so much information circulating, not just online by the public, but by the professional media working everywhere from global wire services to small daily newspapers, it’s a lot to digest.
Sometimes that information can be conflicting and confusing. This virus is only a few months old and there is a lot we don’t know about it. It’s okay for professionals not to be certain, and it’s important for them to say that if that’s the case. And, it’s okay for us to report that we still don’t know a lot.
Professionals in disease and health care are being interviewed and offering assessments that might contradict what other medical professionals are saying. It’s not that they’re lying, it’s that there is so much more to learn about the disease. I think qualifying statements by professionals help. This is what we know to date. Research is still ongoing. Think about what was said about the coronavirus eight weeks ago and how much it’s changed. Keep in mind it will change again.