I wanted to title this note “Inside The St. Louis Public Radio Newsroom.” But, truth is, there isn’t much going on inside the newsroom right now. It’s all happening in our reporters’ and editors’ living rooms, sunrooms, kitchens or basements.
Working remotely is odd for us. We’re a collaborative newsroom and aren’t accustomed to not having face-to-face interactions, especially during breaking news situations when fast, clear communication is essential. The pandemic is affecting our economy, our health and our social lives. But my goal as executive editor at St. Louis Public Radio is to not allow it to alter our ability to bring you reliable, timely and measured news. And I want to make sure our audience understands how we are striving to do that.
When the World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a pandemic, we started planning for doing our jobs from home. If it weren’t for technology (and the amazing technological support we have from our engineer and IT specialist), this would be impossible. We’ve figured most of it out, but if things sound a little “off” when you listen to us, now you know why.
We began making those preparations while the news cycle kept spinning at an ever-increasing pace. It’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed and confused when there is so much information to process and things are changing so fast. We don’t want to add fuel to fire. We want to provide well-researched responses, which is why we’ve been using Curious Louis to solicit your questions and then regularly updating our website with answers. It’s also why we created a live blog on our website, so readers could go to one place and get the latest advances on the story.
All of that is important. But, here’s the thing about St. Louis Public Radio: The kind of journalism that we believe offers the greatest value is produced when we can step back and provide context. That’s why you will continue to hear and read stories that spend time exploring the intricacies of what is going on. That’s why we report on how the agencies that help the homeless are managing and what the impact on the local restaurant and arts communities has been. It’s also why St. Louis on the Air is making connections between our current situation and lessons from a 14th-century Italian novel.
COVID-19 is absolutely the biggest news story of our time. However, it is not the only news, and we are striving to make sure that relevant topics and events don’t go uncovered. That’s why you will still hear stories about children and suicide, the new St. Louis County police chief and a data breach at Ameren.
This is a herculean effort. Everyone in the country is feeling the anxiety and worry from not knowing where this pandemic is going nor when it will stop. Journalists are humans, too, and we are just as nervous about this whole situation. But we take our jobs to inform the public seriously. This means that while we are doing the work of collecting information, interviewing people, verifying the facts, writing our web stories and producing our radio stories, we are putting aside our emotions to make sure that you are informed.
This takes a toll. But I don’t think any of us would have it any other way. I have told the St. Louis Public Radio newsroom several times that everyone needs to take at least one day a week and unplug. Some of us seem constitutionally incapable of that, but others heed my advice, and that helps. Another thing that helps a lot is hearing from our audience. Almost every day we have been receiving wonderful messages thanking us for keeping on top of things and providing this essential service. Thank you for recognizing the work. And thanks, also, to the people who have decided to match their gratitude with a financial contribution. That goes a long way, as well.
Finally, I say to you what I say to the newsroom: Take a day off from keeping up with the news. Unplug. Call old friends. Go for long walks. Eat a great meal. Get lots of sleep. It helps us all stay sane.
— Shula Neuman, executive editor, St. Louis Public Radio
Follow Shula on Twitter: @shuneu
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