‘Reporters have to be even more sensitive these days’: Freelance journalist reflects on 2020

Throughout 2020, journalists across the country have shared their best practices for working through the pandemic. As we approach 2021, we’re asking what they learned this year and what they hope to learn in the year to come. 

Wesley S. Wright, freelance reporter and academic adviser at Florida State University

Name: Wesley S. Wright
Current job: Freelance reporter and academic adviser at Florida State University
Previous Institute Q&A: SPJ launches Race & Gender Hotline for journalists

What are the main lessons you learned this year from your reporting that you’ll use next year?

Wright: American individualism is framed as one of the beautiful parts of this country, but it’s also an aspect of our culture that impinges upon our progress out of this pandemic. That’s a helpful way to frame much of the local, state, and federal issues we see as institutions try to deal with the fallout from rising cases. Ideally, the country would work together, but doing so is almost impossible as decentralized as it is. That bleeds over into everything we report on in ways I would have never considered before. Local control of education is something parents and teachers extol in this country, for example, but the same dynamic of local control means cases are increasing in places that effectively have washed their hands (if you will) of the pandemic. The human cost of that is staggering.

How did your work change during the pandemic?

Wright: I’m not sure the work did, but the methods did. I’m blessed to be able to do the bulk of my work without putting myself in danger, but it requires even more planning than it would in ordinary times. Reporters have to be even more sensitive these days reporting on or around the pandemic, and I try to keep in mind that folks may have already lost family or friends or colleagues to the virus and can’t even grieve properly. There are others who are immunocompromised or live with people that are high risk, and they are coming up on a year or so of trying to give themselves and those around them a shot at surviving a confounding pandemic. That helps color their responses, and it requires special care from reporters who have to establish trust.

What do you hope to learn or cover in the coming year?

Wright: College athletics is an interest of mine, and there are a wealth of stories that should come not only from participation in sport during the pandemic, but there are long-term impacts of doing so on physical/mental health. I’m also interested in programs meant to help buoy businesses during this time, and I’d love to look into what businesses are even thriving during this perilous time.

How are you taking care of yourself now that you weren’t at the beginning of the pandemic?

Wright: I am pretty regimented, and the pandemic made me realize I really took resting for granted. With so much closed and so much more unsafe to attend, I have had to fight to keep some sense of normalcy in ways I absolutely did not this time last year since everything was baked into my schedule. The pandemic has magnified exercising, sleeping regular hours, taking time for leisure, and more. I would also suggest decompressing from social media if need be — I have been doing so when the situation warrants. It’s difficult trying to be responsible just to see others being reckless, where that be your friends or your local/state government. Please do not wear yourself scrolling social media to where you develop this general malaise.

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