U.S. video journalist shares tips for covering COVID-19: ‘We have to get creative’

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By Erik Crouch, Committee to Protect Journalists

In early March, Jon Gerberg was in Detroit, Michigan, covering the Democratic primaries as a video journalist with The Washington Post. But as the COVID-19 virus has spread in the United States and around the world, Gerberg’s coverage has changed to focus on the pandemic.

In recent stories Gerberg, who is based in Washington, D.C., reported on testing labs hindered by supply shortages and on how Americans struggling with addiction are fighting to stay sober while practicing social distancing. He is now reporting on the pandemic from New York City.

While Gerberg has experience with stressful changing reporting environments from his time covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nature of the pandemic has presented new reporting challenges.

CPJ spoke with Gerberg in an email interview on March 26, 2020. His replies have been edited for length and clarity.

How has the pandemic affected your work on a daily basis? Are you still covering your usual beat?

It has changed everything. [Three] weeks ago I was just back from Detroit after covering two intense weeks of the Democratic primaries and turning my attention to some long-term reporting projects. Now it feels like that’s all gone out the window.

For my beat as a video journalist, I already cover a wide range of national and international stories, but it does feel like the current pandemic will at least inform every story I do, in some way, for a while.

I think we’re going to be covering this story, tracing its impacts, and learning its lessons for a long time.

On the practical level, it also means a lot more Slack and video conferences to communicate with editors and colleagues.

What are you doing to keep yourself safe?

I’m taking a number of safety measures — some practical and others technical.

First of all, we are much more discerning with the stories we do cover as well as how we cover them. We ask ourselves: What is the risk in reporting this story? How important of a story is it? And is there a safer way to get it?

When I do decide to take on an assignment, I take a number of precautions. On a practical level there are a lot of common sense steps you can take to make sure that you aren’t putting yourself and others unnecessarily at risk. Know the situation before you go into it. Are there people known or expected to be exposed to coronavirus in the location you are going? Do you have a realistic game plan to get where you need to go and meet with your subjects in a safe and secure environment?

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