Reporting on the Coronavirus Outbreak: “There are risks everywhere I go, and the reporting, in some ways, is an extension of that.”

From a Times Insider column “Reporting From a Center of the Coronavirus Outbreak”:

Mike Baker is the Seattle bureau chief for The New York Times. We asked him what it’s like reporting from the state with one of the deadliest caseloads in America.

What is an average day like for you right now?

I usually have been getting up between 6 and 6:30 and getting up to speed on what’s happening on the East Coast and what’s been happening in other parts of the world. Then I’ve spent a lot of time in the morning getting in touch with various state, local and federal officials to see what they’re hearing and what new developments might be coming. It seems like there’s something new every day.

Who do you contact to track down that information?

The state health agencies, the governors’ offices, the mayors’ offices, county leaders, and different hospitals and hospital groups that represent doctors and nurses.

There’s so much happening and so much changing in how we live our lives. I’m trying to keep track of all those changes and the ones we need to spend the most time writing about. . . .

What questions are you trying to answer?

Right now we’re entering this phase where most of the containment strategies are largely in place and we’re waiting for what kind of wave of cases hit the health care system. It feels like that struggle is just beginning, and we’re going to be monitoring that a lot in the next few days and weeks. . . .

How do you cover that?

Just last week I got a chance to go inside the hospital system where they had the most cases of patients die of the coronavirus in the country, and the staff members there were willing to talk with me. . . .

Does this feel like other reporting you’ve done before?

I don’t think there’s anything comparable to what’s happening.

Is this scary work to you? Or is it just something that comes with the job?

I think the risk of being out in the community and visiting a hospital is right there in your mind. But the virus is basically everywhere. In some ways, there’s a similar risk of going to a restaurant, before restaurants were closed, or going to a crowded grocery store, or filling your tank with gas. You have to look around and say, there are risks everywhere I go, and the reporting, in some ways, is an extension of that.


  1. Barnard Law Collier says

    Dear Jack,

    “You have to look around and say, there are risks everywhere I go, and I go, and the reporting, in some ways, is an extension of that.” ~ Mike Baker reporting for the New York Times from Seattle

    Mike Baker clearly and precisely explains the poignant feelings of a brave and dedicated reporter who works in actual danger.

    Back in the days when I was covering wars from the front lines and the back lines, I woke each morning with delight to see the light of a new dawn, and then spent the rest of the day taking prudent precautions to both stay alive and nonetheless do my job.

    I recall lying prone on the concrete steps of a Caracas apartment house while security police and rebels shot it out with rifles and pistols between our balcony and the roofs across the street. My friend and fellow reporter Tony Valbuena, prone on the step above me, said, “Barney, your skin is white as milk.”
    At that moment a bullet tore into a wooden apartment door jamb a few meters behind us and flying splinters landed on us.

    “I know. I’m scared,” I said.

    “Stay down until the Digipol (secret government police) go away,” he advised.

    A few seconds later the Digipol officer who was positioned at the balcony railing wall near my feet was hit in the chest with what must have been a soft nosed dum-dum bullet. His back gushed out in a rain of blood and bone. He fell into the stairway. When we at last could descend the stairs, we had to be careful not to put a foot into the dead man’s chest.

    That was just the morning business.

    The rest of the day, and every day, Tony and I and other journalists covering the Venezuelan warfare wondered with a deep, underlying sadness if this cup of coffee or that view of the equatorial sky or the delicious leg of vinegar grilled chicken would be our last.

    To cover a pandemic like this one there is little or no actual safety, and what there is depends on not being in the same place as a virus one can’t see. The concrete stair step of isolation may protect you from direct shots, but not ricochets.

    Reporters and others almost everywhere are now feeling the frightening truth that to do our job well, like the first-response and the medical workers do, the life we love may be as brief as a candle flame in the wind.

    I live in a state full of people who number among the roughly 170,000,000 Americans who are 75 years or older. They are now reminded hourly or more that they can’t take their lives for granted. They must take nothing for granted, just as reporters who do honest reporting and still stay alive must.

    My wish for Mike is strength and good luck. He already has courage.

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