Virtual workshop series sharpens reporters’ tools to cover COVID-19 disparities

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold on the United States, it became clear the virus was having disproportionate effects on communities of color in a variety of ways – from higher death rates to disparities in educational access.

As journalists began to report on the issues and find ways to bring context to the numbers, Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting founders — Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ron Nixon and Topher Sanders — created a virtual workshop series to sharpen the investigative reporting skills needed to better cover issues of race and ethnicity amid the pandemic.

The Society’s workshops on covering COVID-19 (held April 29 to May 6, 2020) explored reporting fundamentals — such as building trust with sources, analyzing data and filing Freedom of Information Act requests — and examined issues specific to COVID-19 reporting, from locating sources online to reporting on unprecedented issues such as nationwide virtual education and the learning curve of reporting on a new disease.

“As COVID-19 shutdowns began across the country, journalists found themselves living the story as well as covering it. The Society immediately understood that we had to adapt our in-person trainings for online, but also that we needed to be helping our members with the knowledge and skills to cover this unprecedented story,” said Hannah-Jones. “The COVID-19 series, taught by some of the best in the industry, filled up immediately and provided great reporting tips and resources for journalists across the nation.”

“The Ida B. Wells Society is the right organization with the right leadership and the right mission to fulfill a critical need that our nation needs from journalism today,” said Susan King, dean of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. “I am grateful for the commitment Nikole, Ron and Topher are making to empower journalism to create a stronger, more just, healthier society in which more voices are heard, more perspectives are considered and in which our citizens are better informed.”

The Covering COVID-19 workshop series included five sessions led by professional journalists with expertise around each topic.

  • Prisons/Jails led by Lauren Gill with The Appeal
  • Education led by Hannah-Jones and Erica Green of The New York Times
  • Covering COVID-19 and Race led by Akilah Johnson, health policy reporter at ProPublica and Kat Stafford, national race and ethnicity writer at the Associated Press
  • Labor and Work led by Dave Jamieson, HuffPost labor reporter, and Michael Grabell, ProPublica reporter covering economic issues, labor, immigration and trade.
  • How to Do Daily Reporting led by Caroline Chen, ProPublica health care reporter, and Ben Conarck, Miami Herald reporter
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