Be part of the story
Reporters in Texas have sailed a year full of high impact stories. Last March, when the country was gripped by the coronavirus, Governor Greg Abbott urged residents to stay at home but refused to issue a “stay at home order”“; local outlets worked to help people navigate the confusing guidelines. In summer, in the middle protests against racism and police brutality, George Floyd was buried in Houston; the local ABC subsidiary tells viewers how to prepare if they were planning to attend any services. In February, when a winter storm hit and the power was cut, the Austin American statesman and the Texas Tribune sent text messages to readers, providing information on water shortages and nearby warming stations. And last week when Abbott removal of public health restrictions, including a statewide mask warrant, the Dallas Morning News produces a list of answers to frequently asked questions on what to do. The Texas Tribune updated the title of its COVID homepage—Which lists the number of cases by county, the number of vaccinations over time and hospitalizations by region – to contextualize Abbott’s decision (“Texas reports drop in COVID-19 hospital patients, but on average 200 deaths daily, Governor Greg Abbott lifts restrictions ”). All the while, local journalists continued to experience cross-crises.
Local news outlets, made up of journalists residing in the communities they cover, are particularly able to reflect a sense of belonging and respond to its needs. As national media flies by helicopter for stories about top politicians and their epic failures –Jon Allsop wrote in a recent bulletin on the attention to Senator Ted Cruz, who tried to flee to Cancun when his condition was suffering – it is the job of the local media to cover what is happening on the ground. When disaster strikes, they are best placed to address the practical issue of how to survive. Recently, reporters in Texas have won praise to do just that: “Texas journalists provide critical information about a disaster they are experiencing,” a Washington post declared title. Okay, but make ‘disasters’ out of them.
Over the past year, journalists have participated in vaccine testing, made difficult personal decisions in light of public health guidelines, and lost colleagues and family members to coronavirus. News organizations have been forced to take into account that their role is not just to be observers – or saviors – but stakeholders. In one June webinar moderated by CJR and the Tow Center Journalism Crisis Project, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Editorial Director of the Texas Tribune, described the circumstances of the pandemic as “one of those rare examples where journalists who are very often removed from the reality of what is happening have not been able to separate themselves from the story, and this gives a degree of empathy and understanding which I find important and very useful. She added, “This is something I don’t want us to lose.”
For local media, identifying with their audience is a value proposition: Texas media coverage didn’t just describe Abbott’s latest commission; it is advised on how people should handle it. This approach emphasizes public service. “The journalists we need today are not heroic watchers of the crisis – they are organizers, facilitators, organizers, educators, on-demand investigators and community builders,” Darryl Holliday, co-founder from City Bureau, a nonprofit civic journalism organization in Chicago, wrote for the winter issue of CJR. The Oaklandside, a new local nonprofit newsroom in Oakland, Calif., accelerated its launch when the pandemic exploded, seeking to provide residents of its coverage area with urgent and potentially life-saving information. “It’s not enough to just break the news,” Tasneem Raja, founding editor, says CJR. “What is the value to the person who was setting there saying: Now, okay, is my pharmacy closed? What do I do now? We must therefore go further. ”
Thinking about journalism that covers a community of which it is a part has broader implications for how we view objectivity and prejudice – there is no one on earth who can be “impartial” about the pandemic; it affects everyone. Acknowledging this – and accepting the idea that being close to a story makes a journalist more, not less qualified to tell it – can only be a good thing. And it is a notion that is not limited to a global medical crisis. Even though the press pretends to stand above the fray, it’s important to remember that journalists are human beings living in the world they cover. (“No journalistic process is objective”, as Wesley Lowery wrote last year for the New York Times. “And no journalist is objective, because no human being is.”) As vaccine deployments gain momentum, and we watch with hope towards a to come up Once the COVID crisis has passed, let’s not forget that good journalism reflects a deep understanding of the issues. Reaching out to readers in a straightforward and honest manner can help build relationships and improve coverage.
Below, more information on the challenges facing journalists in the pandemic:
- The health of health reporters: A year after the start of the pandemic, Chelsea Cirruzzo writes for Nieman reports reporters’ report on health, who have faced stress, loss of family members, illness, racism and mental health issues. Health journalists “are balancing the impact of the virus on their own lives,” writes Cirruzzo. (She cites mental health resources, including those available at Columbia’s Darts Center for Journalism and Trauma.)
- Vaccine Reports: For Atlantic, Derek Thompson reports complicated nature of fight against vaccine refusal, an enigma that many journalists report on COVID-19 will continue to face. Because there are a variety of reasons for the decline in immunization, there are a variety of ways to address the problem, Thompson writes, ranging from fairer distribution and clearer rules to better national messages. For his Times newsletter yesterday, David Leonhardt addressed the flawed message around Johnson & Johnson vaccine, explaining how the efficacy figures in the headlines fail to indicate that all of the vaccines currently available in the United States are incredibly effective at preventing serious illness and death.
- Not just “on” reports, but “for” reports: The Marshall Project, a nonprofit newsroom focused on the criminal justice system, has partnered with another nonprofit platform, Ameelio, to articles available to prisons by postal mail. Marshall Project will cover the shipping cost. The system makes sense, Sarah Scire writes for Nieman Lab: “Imprisoned people who often appear as subjects in their journalism tend to have restricted and / or prohibitively expensive Internet access.”
Other notable stories:
- Yesterday, judge ruled in favor of New Orleans journalist Andrea Gallo Lawyer and Times-Picayune who was sued by Jeff Landry, the Louisiana attorney general, after making a public record request about a sexual harassment investigation of one of Landry’s assistants. Landry’s lawyer argued that many documents were protected by a constitutional right to privacy and that subjecting complaint files to public disclosure could prevent people from filing them. Gallo’s lawyer responded that the real deterrent would be a lack of accountability. The judge ruled that the documents would be made public with the names of witnesses and victims redacted, and he ordered Landry’s office to pay Gallo’s defense costs.
- Michael Pack, former CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees Voice of America, a state-funded international broadcaster, has used millions of taxpayer dollars to fund investigations of his own employees, NPR reported yesterday. Pack, a person named by Trump, hired a law firm with strong Republican ties to review employee social media posts, “Michael Pack news articles” and a “Hillary Clinton Email Breach Audit.” (In June of last year, VOA’s two main editors quit after Pack’s appointment and, in August, a group of employees sent management a letter of protest denouncing him; to learn more about VOA, read Jon Allsop.)
- The the Wall Street newspaper reports that the aides of Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, persuaded officials to amend COVID-19 report, obscuring high death toll in state nursing homes. Kate Cohen, Albany-based writer and columnist for To post, written that Cuomo’s dark side was always evident in briefings. After a fleeting media love story, she adds: “We don’t crush anymore.”
- Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of Los Angeles Times, faces increased financial pressure that could force it to Times and its part Tribune Publishing, Poynter Reports. Soon-Shiong has denied that he is considering a sale.
- NYU researchers found that while politically extreme content from all sides generated high levels of engagement on Facebook, extreme right-wing sources of information disseminate the most widespread sources, in particular extreme right-wing sources providing false information.
- And BuzzFeed to the story of David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, taking a second salary from the Aspen Institute, for which he started a community building project called Weave. Brooks wrote on Weave – and the Aspen Institute, and Facebook, which is a funder of Aspen – in his columns, without revealing his involvement. The Times put Brooks under review.
Lauren Harris is a freelance journalist. She writes the CJR’s weekly newsletter for the Journalism Crisis Project. Follow her on Twitter @LHarrisWrites.