Sunday, November 22, 2020

Journalists from Rapid City, Lincoln and Eau Claire papers discuss pandemic coverage on CNN's 'Reliable Sources'

Journalists at three newspapers with significant rural audiences talked about the struggles of covering the coronavirus pandemic Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources" with Brian Stelter.

Dave Bundy, editor of the Lincoln Journal Star in Nebraska, said his paper has three types of readers: those who say "Just give me the data;" those who say "Tell me what I can and can’t do;" and those who say "Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. . . . There’s covid fatigue, there’s covid conspiracy; there’s a lot of things at work."

Bundy and Kent Bush, editor of the Rapid City Journal in hard-hit South Dakota, agreed that in covering the pandemic, it's important to strike a balance that appeals to all three groups of readers.

"The magnitude of the pandemic makes it difficult to maintain perspective," Bush said, noting that the news of five local covid-19 deaths was in the third paragraph of the Journal's latest story on the pandemic. That would have led the story before the pandemic got so big, he said.

Bush said the virus hadn't hit the newspaper's staff until he dispatched reporters to cover the election. A week or so later, half the staff had tested positive, he said.

In Lincoln, Bundy said, "A long time ago covid stopped being a story and started being real life. Reporters are up to their arms in the same issues readers are." He said his city editor said early in the pandemic that coverage of it "wouldn’t be a sprint," but more like a long relay race. He said someone on the staff is always sprinting.

Sarah Seifert, a reporter for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, said people in western Wisconsin have been more willing to talk about their experiences with the virus in the last two months, as cases have surged. 

"Everyone's writing about covid in one way or another," she said. "It’s a big relief to work on a story that’s not about this virus."

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