In this #SPJ2020 Super Session Panel, expert journalists assessed the stories that many media outlets may have missed throughout the past few months, and why these stories need to be told.
The coronavirus pandemic remains the top story of seemingly every news outlet across the country, even after months of coverage. Journalists covering local, national, and international news can’t write fast enough to keep up with every angle and every story evolving every day. Even as the 24 hour news cycle remains dominated by pandemic coverage, there are important stories that continue to slip through the cracks.
Patrice Peck, founder of the newsletter “Coronavirus News for Black Folks,” has been working tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic to bring coverage to stories that may have gone untold in the Black and brown communities.
During her 10 years of working in journalism, Peck has reported on black communities across different beats, from music journalism to most recently the coronavirus pandemic. “This is the first time in my lifetime … that I feel like white people in this country have actually paid attention to and acknowledged systemic racism … in this country,” she said.
Peck immediately noticed the lack of coverage surrounding black communities and the coronavirus. With such an extensive background covering these communities, she was able to hit the ground running, reporting and aggregating news to keep the public informed.
Black communities have a “history of just overwhelmingly having pre-existing medical conditions, so I knew this coronavirus was going to impact us severely. On top of the fact that I knew a lot of essential workers would most likely be black and brown people,” said Peck.
She also pointed out the lack of coverage surrounding school reopenings, and how that directly impacts black students, how the black LGBTQ community has been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, and the eviction crisis currently unfolding as a result of the pandemic.
Rick Burke, co-founder and executive editor of STAT also commented on the importance of covering the “disproportionate burden people of color in terms of recovering from COVID,” and how recovery could be significantly more challenging for those among marginalized communities.
Donald McNeil, science and health reporter for the New York Times, has been covering global health and infectious diseases for about 20 years.
Knowing this beat inside and out, McNeil commented on the lack of reporting surrounding the need for oxygen to treat coronavirus patients in other countries. “That’s one of the life saving crucial things in other parts of the world that people are dying for,” he said.
These journalists also explored the difficulty of navigating coverage of the coronavirus as it becomes an increasingly politicized issue.
“Everything from mask wearing to looking at … the seriousness of this pandemic has become through the political lens” said Berke.
It has become increasingly difficult for the public to discern what is true and what is false, which has posed a real problem for reporters.
“I have never seen the CDC so paralyzed in 20 years of covering them,” said McNeil.
With misinformation often skewing what the public understands as truth, reporters have a responsibility to uphold the truth now more than ever. “It’s our job to cut through the crap,” said Steve Riley, executive editor of the Houston Chronicle.
Panelists also addressed the pressing issue of mental health among journalists reporting on the pandemic. “My gums started bleeding from the stress,” said Peck “Being able to talk to my therapist, virtually during this time has helped immensely.”
The constant exposure to tragedy and illness that reporters experience every day has taken its toll on many dedicated journalists, and panelists discussed how they have dealt with these challenges. With newsrooms reduced to zoom calls and email chains, Riley commented on the difficulty of keeping up with members of a staff.
“The first thing I realized when we went remote in early March, was that I couldn’t just drop by somebody’s desk and check in with them and see how they’re doing,” said Riley
“The reality of it is people are still dying every day and the stories are heartbreaking” said Jerika Duncan, a national correspondent for CBS News.
Regardless of the struggles that have come out of the pandemic, these panelists all acknowledged the importance of the work that they and reporters like them are doing.
“I feel like I’ve trained all my life for this,” said McNeil.
Covering some of the most impactful stories of their career, these journalists understand the necessity of a free press. “Thank God for the fourth estate, thank God for journalists,” said McNeil.