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Watching The Pandemic Unfold: A Reporter’s Perspective From Behind The Microphone

Snapstock via Pixabay

For some of us living in places where the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t fully hit, it can still feel like it isn’t quite real. But in Seattle, residents have been living with it for months. The first patient with COVID-19 in the U.S. was identified near Seattle on January 19th. Now, while Oregon has fewer than 1,200 cases, Washington has nearly 8,000, most around Seattle.

JPR’s Erik Neumann spoke with Ed Ronco who’s had a front row seat as the pandemic has unfolded. Ronco is the host of All Things Considered at KNKX in Seattle.

Erik Neumann: I've heard people say that in looking at what's happening in Seattle right now, it's kind of like looking into our future. So, what does the future look like in Seattle?

Ed Ronco: It's a very busy future if you're in our business Erik, and it's kind of a rough one. So, at the end of March, Washington had 6,000 cases and almost 250 deaths from this. It's been hard to kind of hold that thought in your head. There's a lot that we we've learned in the last few weeks here in Washington State, especially in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area. There are still people out and about but they're trying to keep distance from each other. They're trying to get some exercise but, on the other hand, not put anybody else at risk. It's been a real change of life. It feels like every day is a Sunday afternoon when you look out at the volumes of traffic and who's out and about.

EN: It must be kind of emotional to watch the increase in cases and see these dramatic events happening all around you and where you live. Is there anything that you've found to keep your spirits up right now?

ER: Yeah, it is weird. It is emotional. You're hearing lots of stories about people saying goodbye to loved ones. We broadcast one of those today about a woman who couldn't see her mom in person and the nurse helped her FaceTime in her mom's last hours. So, you hear these stories and you realize this is happening all around you. It's more common for us to do a news story, but you're sort of divorced from the actual events of that story. But for us with this, we're also worried about our own health. We're also taking precautions to protect our own families and our own households. The businesses in our neighborhoods are all close too. So, it's been a little weird to kind of live it at the same time as we cover it.

I've kept my own mind calm by reaching out to friends. I go home to my partner every night and we talk about our respective days. And we watch lots of movies. I'll tell you what, that Disney+ thing we signed up for a while back was a good idea. We didn't know it at the time but it's come in handy.

EN: I imagine this also has made you reflect on your job. What do you think is the role of public radio during this pandemic?

ER: I think we have a real ability to give people information in a way that is urgent without being frightening and I want to distinguish that from glossing something over. We're not doing that at all. I think part of our job is to be a friend, in addition to a source of information. We're using a lot more language on the air like ‘We're listening to this together,’ if we're broadcasting a press conference. Or ‘We're learning about this with you’ or ‘Let's listen together to the next segment from NPR.’ We're trying to convey this sense that we're all here together, and it's genuine. It's not just language we’re using on the air. It's helping me get through it as I'm doing All Things Considered every afternoon.

I think public radio has always done a really good job of being urgent without being alarmist. I think that's super important right now when you have something that is so frightening and so unknown, to have a place you can go where you know the information is going to be accurate and vetted, and it's going to be presented to you in a way that just helps you understand. Here's what happened to halfway around the globe, and here's what's happening a block away from you. I think that that's been really important for us to combine that and help people understand how it's all interconnected.

That was Ed Ronco, a host and reporter at KNKX in Seattle, speaking with Jefferson Public Radio’s Erik Neumann.

This interview was edited for clarity.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.