March 2, 2021

Jeannie Roberts is a news reporter for The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who has had a lead role in writing feature obituaries of those lost to COVID-19. She remembers the first time she was sent to report at a hospital after the pandemic started. She briefly stopped in fear of the scene in front of her before continuing to move forward.

“You have a job to do, and journalists almost have to be born for this job to push through that fear,” Roberts said. “You have a state and a people to — not to sound too hokey — but to protect and give them information.”

The goal of the feature obituaries was to humanize pandemic deaths beyond a statistic and put faces to a virus that many claimed wasn’t real.

Roberts said news organizations need to give more attention to the mental health toll of the pandemic on journalists.

“During my career, I’ve gone through some pretty horrific, you know, scenes and experiences and things, and that is always been something that I thought that the news media lacks is that they need to be looking more at the mental health of their reporters,” she said.

Listen to the oral history interview:

Read the transcript.

See a story from the Democrat-Gazette from July 28, 2020.

See a story from the Democrat-Gazette from August 9, 2020.

See more from The Essential Workers, an oral history project tracking the experiences of locally owned newspapers in Mid-America during the pandemic.

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Teri Finneman is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas. She previously worked as a print journalist and multimedia correspondent covering state…
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