Inside the New York Times: Covering the U.S. the Past Two Years

From a Times Insider column by Steven Moity headlined “Covering the U.S. the Past Two Years”:

It has been nearly two years since the first Covid cases were reported in the United States. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the National desk has been covering the immense changes occurring in every part of the country. Reporters on the desk, stationed across the nation, are continuously adapting to major events while simultaneously dealing with the risks of Covid-19 themselves. Below, some of those reporters share a few of the ways they have adapted to this new reality — and what they’ve learned along the way.

Forging new reporting skills when you can’t interview someone in person.

It taught us a different skill set in terms of interviewing people and asking them for the details that normally you would try to observe or hear or smell or taste yourself. You’re going to depend on the people you were interviewing to give you those details. — Patricia Mazzei, Miami bureau chief

Adapting when the story changes.

When 2020 started, my coverage plan for the year was to focus on the curriculum. Because we had a presidential election coming up, I planned to continue a series of articles I began in 2019 about how the nation’s history was taught; how race was taught; how our history as a nation of immigrants was taught. But then we were all totally waylaid by the pandemic. Since February 2020, I have reported on Covid and schools full time. What’s ironic is that the curriculum has become really relevant again politically with the pushback to critical race theory and the banning of books. I have colleagues who are now focused on those stories. And I’ve learned an enormous amount about public health and viruses. In some ways, Covid was a good story for my skill set, because I enjoy working with data and research, which has been important during the pandemic. — Dana Goldstein, domestic correspondent, based in New York

Learning to live the story.

“I started to get the news that my family was getting infected. I was in denial about that. So I just kept reporting and interviewing experts and local officials about the pandemic. But then, my relatives were getting sicker by the day. And then it came to the point where I had to basically drop the story and just focus on my family. Eventually, I had to merge those two worlds into one article, which was published in July 2020.
— Edgar Sandoval, national reporter, based in Texas

Navigating the politics of masks.

Because masks have become such a political symbol, it’s actually been easier to report from a place with universal masking rules. That way, whether you’re wearing a mask or not doesn’t get read as some signal of your identity or politics. It just says that you’re complying with the rules of whatever place you’re in. So it just makes it easier for me as a reporter. — Jack Healy, national correspondent, based in Phoenix

Reporting with precautions.

The pandemic hasn’t kept the National desk from covering this country, in all its corners, or from actually going to the places where it was happening. I think we’ve all learned to take the precautions that we need to and to make sure that we feel that we’re not taking any inappropriate risks, but there’s always risks inherent in reporting. The virus made reporting in person more fraught, particularly before vaccines were available, but I found even in the early days of the pandemic that with some good masks and enough food and water in the backpack I could safely report from pretty much anywhere. — J. David Goodman, Houston bureau chief

Tackling a more complex news cycle.

What was so hard in 2020 was that the National desk had to cover the pandemic. We had to cover the massive protests after the death of George Floyd. We had to cover one of the worst wildfire seasons in one of the worst hurricane seasons. On their own, these are all huge demanding stories, and we had to do them all at the same time. I think that’s kind of like a harbinger of the future in a lot of ways. There is no back burner. You have to have six pots boiling at the same time, and you have to give them all the same level of attention and care. And how do you do that? You know, that’s the dilemma. — Rick Rojas, national correspondent, based in Nashville

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