Daily Campus alum on covering and keeping up with COVID-19 news

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We reached out to Daily Campus alumni who are working in journalism and media. Many of them have had their jobs impacted in different ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. They share their experiences along with advice on how people should follow the news during this time.

 


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Tim Fontenault graduated with the Class of 2015 as a journalism and communications major. He was the Sports Editor at The Daily Campus and currently works as the Multimedia Editor at ESPN Global Video.

The coronavirus outbreak caused the shutdown of just about all sports across the globe, which obviously had a big effect on us at ESPN. But even without games to look forward to, fans crave sports content. In a way, not much has changed in ESPN’s workflow outside of the trials of working from home.

 Our team of journalists and on-air talent has delivered exhaustive coverage of the real-world challenges brought on by this pandemic, focusing on its effect on the sports world while we continue to create engaging content that gives our audience what it wants: 24/7 sports coverage, debate and conversation. This includes exclusive interviews, top 10 videos, resurfacing archive content and much more. Athletes have been remarkably receptive to conducting interviews over Skype, and our on-air talent are eager to provide as much help as possible from their homes to ensure that we continue to create content for our shows and digital platforms, including the ESPN app and multiple YouTube channels.

The good thing about sports is there’s always something to talk about. Even when there are no games happening, they can still provide people with a bit of relief from the uncertain times we are facing.


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Julia Werth graduated with the Class of 2017 as a journalism and nutritional sciences major. She was the News Editor and Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Campus and currently works as a staff writer for The Connecticut Examiner.

For me, covering the COVID-19 outbreak is not about reporting the number of cases each day or even tracking the spread of the virus across the state. Instead, it’s about telling the story of how lives are being changed, normal practices are being left behind, and new ones are starting to be formed.

In the first three weeks of reporting, I’ve dug into the impacts to outpatient medical care and religious practices. I’ve followed how schools are adjusting to purely remote education and the challenges that poses when it comes to complying with state and federal mandates regarding special education. In addition to stories, I’ve worked to make sure basic information that people might need – such as the hours of food pantries – is readily available. As a newspaper, we’ve worked to respond to the concerns and questions of our region without intensifying their anxiety.

Even as an avid reader and lover of news, I think it is essential that people don’t read too much during this time. Advice is constantly changing and trying to keep up with it all would make anybody anxious. I would encourage people to check in once maybe twice a day with a couple valued and trusted news sources and other than that try to find some happiness, peace and relaxation during this stressful time. 


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Kathleen McWilliams graduated with the Class of 2015 as an English and journalism major. She was the Managing Editor at The Daily Campus and is currently a reporter for The Hartford Courant.

My advice for news consumption during the Coronavirus crisis is to really listen to your gut about how much news you want to consume. Are you watching or reading the news because you want to be informed or because you’re anxious? If you’re genuinely curious about what’s happening, I recommend dedicating an hour or two a day to tuning into the news source of your choice because following a 24-hour news cycle is draining at best. If you’re feeling pulled to the news because you’re anxious and want answers or reassurance (I count myself in this category most days), consume news carefully and in doses that feel manageable and don’t trigger panic responses. I’d also suggest finding outlets for your anxiety like exercise or talking to a loved one.

I’ve been covering the coronavirus’s inevitable descent into Connecticut for the last few weeks. I have been primarily writing about it’s impact on K-12 students whether through school closures, the implementation of digital distance learning or how students with mental health needs are accessing their school counselors and social workers now that schools are closed.

The coronavirus, more than any big news event I’ve ever covered, has been a challenge to follow because everything changes by the minute. It’s been tough to follow but my colleagues at The Courant have done an amazing job working together tirelessly for the last few weeks to bring Connecticut the news it needs.


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Schae Beaudoin graduated with the Class of 2018 as a journalism major. She was the Life Editor at The Daily Campus and currently works as a contributing writer for Ticket News and Scene Daddy.

Life as we know it is currently suspended. Where we used to worry about what to wear or how we’d spend our weekend, our collective concerns have turned toward the global COVID-19 pandemic. There are now very real fears of life and death, poverty and sickness on every American’s mind. The fractures in our healthcare system are about to be blown wide open. We’re living through a public health and economic crisis that could very well define our generation.

Entertainment is one of those aspects of normal life that seems to have faded away in recent days (excluding the streaming services fueling all of us right now). And quite frankly, postponed tours and movie releases should be the least of your worries. Yet similar to the service industry, artists and workers in the entertainment industry stand to lose a lot from this crisis.

Concert promoting giants like Live Nation and AEG have put a pause on all touring. Major U.S. festivals like Coachella and Ultra have postponed or outright cancelled. Venues across the country are shut down indefinitely. While we know the mega-stars in the industry and executives of record labels and production companies will be okay once this crisis ends (and it will end), independent artists and venues are hurting now and some will never recover. That doesn’t even include the hourly and freelance workers in these industries: Camera operators, sound and lighting crew, photographers, touring crew, ushers and production assistants. 

These artists and workers are now jobless and have no idea when they’ll be able to pick up work again. Many are without health insurance on top of the financial uncertainty. The countless postponed tours have been planned months in advance, now throwing off artists’ working schedule for the year, possibly even into 2021.

 While most festivals and tours have insurance that covers cancellations, that’s hardly been the case with COVID-19. Infectious diseases simply aren’t covered by event insurance, as we’ve never seen a pandemic like the COVID-19 outbreak in modern times. This leaves artists and promoters to foot the bill in the case of an outright cancellation. Many artists are postponing tours instead, hoping to make their money back later in the year.

If you are able (and I know that’s a big, fat “if” right now), supporting artists, particularly smaller independent artists, will go a long way in keeping them afloat during these uncertain times. Buying merchandise is one of the most direct ways to support musicians, whether it’s a hoodie, sticker or poster. Some entertainment industry workers have set up GoFundMe’s, as well. Streaming and word-of-mouth are free or low-cost ways to support artists. Musicians are finding creative ways to interact with fans during social distancing as livestreams are becoming even more common.

While waiting through the storm seems to be all any of us can do lately, remember this will pass. And life will continue on as normal as possible once this is over. But in the meantime, we need to support one another, even in the smallest ways possible.


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Christopher McDermott graduated with the Class of 2017 as an English major. He was the News Editor for The Daily Campus and currently works as a staff reporter for the CTExaminer.

Whenever news events are moving fast or there’s extra uncertainty on everyone’s minds, it’s even more important for reporters to focus on the essentials: Gather the facts, call the experts, check the facts, reach out to who is most affected to drive home why it matters and then get that story out to the public. Now more than ever, the public needs thoughtful, verified journalism to be ready for the challenges before us. 

And throughout all of that, it’s important for reporters to keep our eyes constantly on the leaders who make society’s most significant decisions and on the most vulnerable among us who have to live with the consequences of those decisions.

Health and medicine has never been my beat as a reporter, but the coronavirus and the calls for all people to social distance have affected every part of society: Government, business, education, religious services and much more. That means we’re all rethinking how these big systems all fit together and seeing how they change when we’re all trying to put six feet between us.

A lot of my time as a reporter has focused on covering schools, town government meetings and local budgets — but all of that is suddenly moving to Zoom meetings and distance learning as officials rush to catch up. I know I’m privileged to have a job that easily transfers to working from home, even though I do miss face-to-face interviews and covering policy debates in person.

The most effective news articles are those that take these big systemic changes and show how they directly affect real people in human terms. So the news story now is both “How are schools going to reshape their schedules and curriculums for remote learning?” and “Where are the most vulnerable people in society — like children from poor families and isolated seniors — going to get their next meal when usual services close down?” 

There’s so much that we simply don’t yet know about this pandemic or the economic recession likely to join it. As a reporter, I’m taking it story by story, trying to see what questions directly affecting people that we can answer today, and gathering the accounts of people living through this in hopes that it helps us make more sense of the uncertain world we’re stepping into.


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Daniela Marulanda graduated with the Class of 2018 as a journalism major. She was a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus and currently works as a production assistant for ESPN.

For the first time, I’m an adult in the middle of a worldwide crisis and it affected me directly. Since the NBA suspended the season and the rest of the sports world followed, things at ESPN have been weird. Working in a 24/7 sports network means exactly that. Our motto is “To serve fans anytime anywhere.” In the blink of an eye everything stopped. 

But we have lived up to the motto. A lot of people started to work from home and I’m lucky to work with very resourceful people who make it possible to still have something on the air every day.

My job as a content associate for ESPN Features is now to come up with ideas that we can do without interviews or phone interviews, for example. Right now, I’m working on a video essay about the good things that have come out of the virus. The human side, the videos that make you believe in kindness and how athletes are more than just athletes. They are leading voices, they are people invested in their communities. They are giving back.

The disruption of sports and life in general has made me appreciate sports and miss them, a lot. It’s also one of the few times since I was a kid where life kind of slow down and it’s different but I think we all needed to slow down.

I was always looking for the next thing. When I was in college, I was looking forward to graduation. When I graduated, it was time to find a job. You get a job and you’re thinking of what’s the next move. That’s good, that’s progress but I’ve felt the burn-down over non-stop movement, non-stop sports, non-stop news cycle. Sometimes everything felt the same, even if things were changing.

So, although this is a scary time and I’m worried about my job to some extent, I’m thankful we were reminded to slow down and be thankful for what we have. The health of those around us. Thankful to take some fresh air, thankful to retake the things I loved as a kid like playing basketball by myself. We never stopped, because that may have been seen as lazy. We were forced to do it. 


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Stephanie Sheehan graduated with the Class of 2019 as a journalism and communications major. She was the former Managing Editor and men’s basketball beat writer at The Daily Campus and currently works as an online editor for The Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Virginia.

Being outside of New England, the virus was slower to get here. Now that it’s arrived, 13 people have died and 460 have tested positive at the time of writing.

As an online editor, I’m fortunate enough to not be on the front lines reporting or taking photographs. I get to sit on my couch and do my job from home. But it’s far from relaxing. We’re doing everything from asking businesses how they’re coping to asking schools what they’re doing to asking athletes how they’re handling a world without sports. We created a story that’s just a giant list of schools, public venues and events that have been cancelled/closed/postponed. In our market, it’s the only list of its kind.

I have to make sure that breaking news gets out right away on social media, through push alerts and via newsletters. We’ve taken the paywall off any coronavirus-related stories so everyone can access this vital information. At the beginning of the month, everything seemed okay. It only took a week for everything to blow up to the point it has. 

These are unprecedented times. It’s really hard to navigate through the news and figure out which stories are accurate. My advice? Subscribe to your local paper. National outlets are helpful, but your local paper is the only source of information that’s relevant to your everyday life. Journalists are working overtime to give you information, and subscribing is the best way to show your support. As if the news industry hasn’t been decimated enough, pay cuts and layoffs at some organizations have already been announced. Your support goes a long way in minimizing those cuts. 

The most accurate information is coming from your local paper, not CNN or Fox News. If you want to read commentary or opinion pieces on how Trump is handling everything, go ahead. It’s your right. But if you’re concerned that national outlets are pumping out biased content, which they most likely are, there’s a strong chance your local paper is working double time to be straightforward and informative. Big companies care about profits, but the actual reporters, photographers and editors care about you.


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Molly Stadnicki graduated with the Class of 2018 as a Psychological Sciences and English major. She served as the Editor-in-Chief at The Daily Campus and currently works as the SNAP & Nutrition Outreach Coordinator at End Hunger Connecticut! .

This pandemic has been a shock to the system for us all in many ways. Our immune systems, healthcare systems, food systems, business systems, government systems – every system you can imagine is affected. At End Hunger Connecticut! (EHC!), we serve the entire state in our efforts to reduce food insecurity and increase participation/awareness in food assistance and nutrition programs (like SNAP). As this pandemic has unfolded, we’ve seen it’s really hitting hardest to our families, children, elderly, disabled and those of low-income status, as well as the agencies working tirelessly on the ground to get services and information out as fast as they can. 

With everything that’s going on right now, Communications is ALL I’m doing as we continue to fully serve Connecticut behind computer screens and phones. All of our staff members (including some additional staff we’ve hired to handle the influx of work) are working remotely on a fully operational schedule. We have a SNAP Call Center – 866.974.SNAP (7627) – that operates 7 days a week to assist people with applying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps), redeterminations, help with their state EBT accounts, and general inquiries. While we often take on many, many calls on a normal day, we are busier than ever – just this past week our call log increased by 125%.

As I’ve worked to find information to share with our communities, I have a few helpful tips:

●      Call 211 or visit https://www.211ct.org/. They are a state hub for information and are constantly adding to their site. They provide a plethora of information about programs, services, agencies, and other resources.

●      Visit town and public school websites and social media pages regularly. This has been very helpful in finding out what towns are doing for free meal pick-ups/locations, special services and programs, and general announcements that are of interest to those living in the area.

●      So much of what I’ve seen online is a call for donations. Please donate money, supplies, or time if you are able. Many places that normally rely on donations and volunteers are suffering right now not only because of an influx of need, but because social distancing has drastically decreased their regular volunteer participation. Some places I’ve seen that need help are food banks and pantries, senior centers, blood donation services and healthcare services looking for PPE supplies. Places are even screening healthy people in order to allow them to volunteer. Visit websites and call services near you to learn how you can best assist.

●      For a list of Connecticut towns and districts with school meal sites available, visit the yellow banner at https://portal.ct.gov/SDE. It is being consistently updated.

Recheck all your sources regularly. With the pandemic constantly evolving, services and operations are doing the same. Make sure you don’t miss any updates. This is especially true for food banks and food pantries – it is best to call your local banks/pantries to see what their most up to date hours and operations are. In general, be careful about dwelling on what you see in the media. Connecticut is now reporting many more cases than it was before – but that is largely due to test results coming back, and the availability of more tests all at once. It is a scary time and these reports should definitely be taken very seriously, but it is also important to be weary, stay well-informed, and keep everything in perspective.


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Bailey Wright graduated with the Class of 2017 as a journalism and psychology major. She was the Managing Editor at The Daily Campus and currently serves as the Digital Content Producer at The Record-Journal newspaper in Meriden, Connecticut.

When the coronavirus first reached the northeast, I was working on a food and drink beat, writing restaurant and food features. However, the virus quickly changed my job, and the focus of most of our reporters. There are endless angles to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many ways this pandemic has changed everyones’ lives. We’re just trying to keep up. I’ve been on stories about the restaurant mandate, what life is like at home for families with schools closed and couples who have had to postpone weddings.

The common thread with all these stories is fear and confusion, even still. Throughout the community, people are afraid not just about who will get sick, but also how we’ll get through it and what life will look like on the other side. This is especially true for small businesses, whose owners are aware of how crippling even a few weeks of being closed will be.

As journalists, you are often empathetic to the people you cover, and that hasn’t changed. It’s hard to hear that these businesses may not come out the other side. There’s a lot of pain and a lot of confusion there –  people just don’t know what to do. Because of this, our jobs as reporters are as important as ever because we can help provide information and knowledge to people.

There are some hopeful stories too: We’ve seen school districts come together to feed kids, to get them Wifi and laptops to work from home. We’ve seen our share of people visiting nursing homes with giant signs to say hi to their elderly loved ones on lockdown.

It’s especially interesting to see how people come together through technology. I am lucky to be able to work remotely because I can call sources instead of meeting them in person, and I can find people to interview through social media. When I was writing about postponed weddings, and again when I looked at how families are doing with distance learning, I turned to Facebook to find those perspectives and got a big response.

This way of communicating isn’t new, but it is vital now as many people are taking self-isolation seriously. Our newspaper still has a photographer out in the field everyday, helping us visualize these stories. Sometimes sources don’t want a photo taken because they don’t want someone stepping into their home at this time and we understand that. Even the photographer has to consider his safety and if someone mentions they have a cough, we don’t move forward.

Trying to keep up with all the different angles of this pandemic is difficult not only in coverage, but as a consumer. I’ve found myself turning on broadcast news more because it feels easier to follow right now than reading a ton of articles. I let myself take breaks and think about things other than the virus when I can. Like any big news event, it’s important not to let it consume you 24/7.


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Francesca Colturi graduated with the Class of 2017 as a journalism and anthropology major. She was the Associate Life Editor at The Daily Campus and currently serves as the Web Editor at the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

Most of our digital world revolves around photos, and there’s no difference when it comes to the news. Every story must have a photo or visual in order to balance any words you’re trying to get a stranger to read. But during this pandemic, we have begun to use microscopic images of the virus, where the crown-like structures of the novel coronavirus remind us of the germs and tiny pathogens we encounter daily.

We also see photos of chemical spray bottles, gloved hands, countless masked individuals at work and at play. But more importantly we are seeing infographics: maps showing spread, curved graphs representing impact, animated simulations of infection before social distancing, etc.

These visuals are much more important. Remember to verify the source of the infographic. They convey more than a snapshot. Maps remind us of our connections to each other, the distance we travel throughout the day, and people we have an effect on. The curved graphs remind us that there is something worse than staying home from work and scrubbing our hands vigorously, just as the simulations remind us why we must follow these simple directives.

Although the world may revolve around the lenses and screens of our cellphones, pandemics and events of great magnitude motivate creators and analysts to deliver our information in a new way. A way that delivers our news in a way more readers may understand and so we may relay this information to others.

I have found comfort in the diagrams, not because they are telling me positive things but because each one makes me understand the pandemic that much more.


Compiled by Kimberly Nguyen.

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