Reporting: “It’s easy to discount the value of a facial expression, a tone of voice or a firm handshake.”

From a Times Insider column by Elizabeth Williamson headlined “A Reporter’s Challenge: Maintaining Distance in a Close Community.”

In 25 years as a journalist, including a decade spent in Eastern Europe, one of my more challenging tasks came this month: reporting on the novel coronavirus — not from inside a besieged New York medical center, but from bucolic Amish country in Ohio.

Working (and healthy) journalists are exempt from restrictions on travel that apply to most Americans. But our work has necessarily become more solitary, as we protect ourselves and the people we meet. In a field that relies on human contact, we stand six feet away, hiding ourselves behind masks, goggles and gloves, refusing opportunities to interact that we would normally prize. . . .

Technological and physical barriers have reminded me of the vulnerability reporters share with the people who are our subjects, and reinforced the importance of human connectedness to reporting. It’s easy to discount the value of a facial expression, a tone of voice or a firm handshake in establishing rapport until such things are obscured behind a mask or prohibited by social-distancing rules. . . .

The next day began at Keim, a lumber and home goods business leading the effort on personal protective equipment. . . .In Keim’s parking lot, I placed my iPhone on a concrete wall to record an interview, then stepped several feet away. Abe Troyer and Leroy Yoder, Amish leaders in Holmes County, spoke movingly about coronavirus’s impact on incomes and gatherings.

Retrieving my phone, I logged in to save the recording. But the cold had made the phone seize. As I watched numbly, it went dead, the two men’s words gone. Even around my mask, Ms. Hochstetler saw my pain. “It happens!” she said, except that it never — ever — had to me. “I can bring them back!”

Hours later we met again, and I confessed that modern technology and social distancing had gotten the better of me. If I were Amish, I told the men standing across the room, maybe I would have relied on handwritten notes.

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