An interactive map of a community’s help, a devastating personal story from a photographer, and what a nationwide day without school looks like

COVID-LOCAL: Notable work from local newsrooms and how they are covering the coronavirus

March 19, 2020

Across the country, journalists are delivering COVID-19 stories to their communities and audiences. We’ve asked for your submissions while scouring local news organizations for smart, interesting work.

Here are three stories, plus a little about the inspiration behind these pieces as told by the journalists who pulled them off.

Submissions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

COVID-19 and a man called Chatter

By Mike Spissinger of WPSD, Local 6 in Paducah, Kentucky

WPSD chief photographer Mike Spissinger’s father-in-law, Chatter (Courtesy Mike Spissinger)

Mike Spissinger, chief photographer of WPSD, lost his father-in-law to dementia at the nursing home this week. They weren’t able to say goodbye because of a no-visitor policy. His father-in-law’s wife, Sue, 90, struggled to balance wanting to see relatives coming in for services and the chance of catching the virus.

Spissinger gave Poynter an update:

After much thought and back and forth discussions, Sue felt it was her duty to be at the funeral as respect to her husband and to parts of the family not seen that often

I called several doctor’s offices to beg for a mask. After repeatedly hearing the message that, “Ya know, the mask is more for infected people,” I finally aquired one.

Just before the doors opened, Sue put the mask on, took a deep breath and toughed through the ceremony.

Whether the mask helped or not physically, it gave her peace of mind. And even though it was light blue, it served as a yield sign to well-wishers. Everyone stayed a comfortable distance.

There may be folks that think it was a bad decision, but for us, we did what we could in the short time we had.

Chester was use to fixing things on the fly.

COVID-19 Community Support Map

By Ben Beagle of The (Batavia, New York) Daily News/Livingston County News (Geneseo, New York) 

Our interactive map highlights community support services in the four counties we cover. This includes food pantries, school food distribution, medical and mental health services. We will continue to expand it.

Some information came from special sections we had done previously. Other information came through county and local government sources such as press people, websites and directories. We reached out to sources via phone and email to confirm the information before publishing. Other information came from schools as part of our reporting on their food distribution plans.

The hardest part was doing this while a constant flow of information was coming in. We sought help from our clerks, a part-time reporter and some staff members who could spare a few minutes. It took a day or so to get enough data where we felt comfortable to launch.

When we did, with little promotion — just a small story and embedded map — the map was seeing activity. Within a few hours that activity was more than 4,000 views. There are now 57 points of community support and we’re encouraging readers to send suggestions for more additions. As for views, that number topped 60,000 views (on Thursday afternoon).

A day without school: What life looks like across America when children stay home

By the Chalkbeat staff

This was a one-day project aimed at capturing the experiences of parents, educators and students contending with the unprecedented school closures resulting from the coronavirus crisis. We asked reporters from our seven local bureaus to interview people from school communities and write vignettes that describe their days, and the new realities that they face.

Reporters called, emailed and texted longtime sources as well as people they’ve recently connected with covering the crisis, with an eye toward telling the story from diverse vantage points. We wanted to strike a good balance with geography and mix of sources — and elevate voices that reflect the communities we cover. We also pulled from the two main reader callouts we’ve done via Google Forms during the outbreak.

Nearly 450 readers have responded, sending us their questions, fears, personal stories and ideas.

The Chalkbeat newsroom is working remotely now. We have a strong remote culture because we have news bureaus in seven cities, but that none of us were together in the same room did pose an additional obstacle. We previewed the project to editors starting late last week and came up with a clear project description and shared it with the whole team early in the day. Our reporters, editors, engagement staff, and graphics and visual designers all stepped up.

To ensure consistency and save time, we established strict word counts and provided suggested questions. We gave tips on how to conduct interviews remotely and tease out telling details (which our reporters captured so well). We developed a clear filing system early on: Reporters wrote their vignettes, editors edited them, then shared them with the two editors who stitched everything together. If you go the callout route, be sure to get names and numbers and ask if respondents are willing to be contacted and interviewed by a reporter.

We felt strongly that the reporting needed to cover one day — a day we all shared — and we were driven to publish it that same day. We started that Tuesday without an interview done or a word written. We published the piece at 11:17 p.m. ET — with 43 minutes to spare.

Have you or your colleagues produced some great journalism around COVID-19? Submit your stories here!

Besides being a great help to your community, the rest of the journalism industry will benefit from it. Short stories, long stories, all media  — including radio, video, photos, podcasts, data visualizations, social media and of course print. The more you can share about your behind-the-scenes work, the more useful your submission will be for others.

We’ll continue to round up and share the best work in our Covering COVID-19 newsletter and in future roundups like this.

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