Reporting a news story amid a pandemic: my experience
Face masks. Social distancing. Online interviews.
Reporting news can be difficult at the best of times, never mind during a global pandemic when journalists and undergraduate students, like myself, are having to adjust to the new reality of reporting from home. On top of being remote, the new safety protocols outlined by the government: face masks, social distancing, and meeting people outside your household indoors now prohibited, it is safe to say my experience of news reporting has changed.
Whether this change is positive or negative is up for debate, but I hope that by sharing my own experience of newsgathering during the coronavirus pandemic, other journalists and students may be able to benefit when it comes to reporting their own stories during these unprecedented times.
What was the news story?
The story was about a Bournemouth councillor, Kieron Wilson, who volunteered to make free school meals for children over October half-term to help struggling families within his ward, Muscliff and Strouden Park. The story was for the local newspaper, The Daily Echo which contains a large readership across Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole.
What challenges did I face?
- Conducting face-to-face interviews —Approaching people who are part of a story is a vital part of newsgathering. However, during the pandemic securing face-to-face interviews was extremely difficult. As well as this, because my story was based on the community, doing vox pop interviews on the streets near schools was almost impossible as people did not feel comfortable to stop and answer my questions.
- Getting second opinions — I know this challenge might seem odd considering I am at university and not in the real world of journalism but, I really missed the social interaction you get from lectures and seminars. Hearing ideas from other students and getting advice on story headlines and leads can be extremely helpful. Not having this was a challenge for me because I love bouncing ideas off other like-minded journalist enthusiasts and I suspect this absence must have been even more difficult for professional journalists in newsrooms.
How did I respond?
Utilised social media
Social media was instrumental in gathering sources for my article. With the aid of Facebook community groups like Bournemouth Community Group and All Things Christchurch, I was able to virtually connect with a parent who was happy to answer any questions I had online which helped increase the newsworthiness of my article.
Phone and email interviews
After accepting my defeat with face-to-face interviews, I turned to my phone and laptop and the result was just as effective, if not more. Despite not being able to access Cllr Kieron Wilson’s and members of BCP council’s facial features, the quality of the interview felt the same. I got to speak with Kieron for a long time, perhaps longer than I would have got if we met in person and BCP council emailed me several valuable statistics and hyperlinks that would have been difficult face-to-face.
However, if you rely on face-to-face interactions for your news reports/features then try conducting your online interviews via zoom or Microsoft Teams. In hindsight, I believe this way of interviewing would have been more effective, especially with Kieron.
Kept in contact with people on my course online
Even though I was in a group for this project, I still reached out to other students on my course to get advice on my news report and help them with their own. It is important to keep in touch, as much as possible, with course friends and colleagues during these isolating times. You never know the power simply reaching out can have on other people's mental health. It certainly helped me with boosting my own morale.
So, if you are missing that social interaction from lectures or newsrooms, get in touch! You could create WhatsApp group chats or have daily ‘check-in’ phonecalls.
Let me know your thoughts on news reporting and how you are coping during the pandemic on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and stay tuned for more information on journalism.