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Arts & Culture

What It's Like Reporting In This Time

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Ben Trefny
/
KALW
Audio Academy alum Porfirio Rangel ('19) and fellow Julia Llinas Goodman ('20) twinning in the KALW studios before our news department began working remotely.

It was the fall of 2016, and I was huddled around the television with a group of my coworkers, watching Donald Trump be elected president. It was my first job out of college, and I was a research assistant at a small newswire service.

As the night grew later and the odds of Trump winning grew ever more certain, I watched my colleagues who didn’t have stories to update leave the room one by one, shaking their heads in defeat. It felt like something had changed about our office, about the work that we were doing as journalists. For some of us, the change was unexpected; for others, the change was a heightening of issues we had been struggling with for a long time. Could those issues be improved by writing about them, by investigating them as thoroughly as we could and reporting them to the public as honestly as we knew how? I hoped that they could.

More than three years later, we face another major shift in the journalistic landscape. This one is more complicated — there’s so much we don’t understand about its source, its method of spread, and how to protect ourselves. And at times, it feels even less likely that anything we’re doing as journalists right now can matter. We’re all being challenged in new ways, and just getting through each day presents another set of obstacles to be overcome.

In the Audio Academy, we’re journalists, but we’re also students — the lessons we’re learning now will impact how we tell stories for years to come. One of the projects I’ve been focusing on at KALW during this time has been our “Quarantine Diaries” series. I interview rideshare drivers and other freelance workers about the struggles they’re facing during these uncertain times. Sometimes, I feel indescribably guilty that I can’t do more to help, that telling their stories and passing along links to apply for mutual aid resources or unemployment is the most I can do. At other times, I think about how I and many of my classmates in the Audio Academy have been laid off from our paying gigs during this time. I feel what can only be described as a crushing sense of doom at the sheer number of people facing financial, medical, and emotional crises right now — often, all three at once.

Yet, at the same time, I’m watching the people I live and work with step up in incredible ways, ways I couldn’t have predicted before this pandemic started. My coworkers are giving their every ounce of free time and mental stability to covering the news, to making sure people understand the full scope of the human impact of this crisis. My neighbors are risking their health and safety to help each other. People are acting in frustrating and horrifying ways, but they’re also acting in amazing and inspiring ways.

Much like the rest of the world, it’s hard for me to predict how this sudden change will impact me in the long term — either as a student, a journalist, or a person. But one thing I still believe is that investigating the truth, and telling stories about it, is a vital tool in times of crisis. We need to hear from each other now more than ever, to feel connected to something larger than the limits of our own homes. In some ways, I couldn’t have picked a luckier time to be working alongside some of the most dedicated reporters and storytellers I’ve ever met. It feels like a gift to be able to do some small thing to help my community survive all of this.
 

This week, Julia Llinas Goodman produced a story drawing parallels between the reality show The Circle (in which competitors could only communicate through social media) and our current reality during the coronavirus crisis. Check it out right here.