Berkeley Journalism and the ‘New York Times’ partner to cover COVID-19 crisis

Annie Berman sitting at a desk taking notes

UC Berkeley journalism student Annie Berman has been working remotely from her off-campus apartment in Berkeley to contribute her reporting to COVID-19 coverage for the New York Times. (Photo courtesy of Annie Berman)

For many journalists, writing for the New York Times, arguably the nation’s most prestigious newspaper, would be the opportunity of a lifetime. For UC Berkeley journalism students during this academic year, it’s part of their curriculum.

This week, UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism announced it has joined forces with the Times to provide critical reporting on COVID-19’s impact on California’s 58 counties.

Led by the journalism school’s Investigative Reporting Program, more than 80 students and 20 instructors are reporting in small teams to gather data, search for moving anecdotes, interview experts and take photographs for news stories to be published in the paper’s main edition and in California Today, the Times’ daily California-focused newsletter.

“This is a chance to work with one of the best journalism schools in the country,’’ said Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times. “The story of this virus is one of the biggest of our time, and having blanket coverage of its spread and effects is important to our readers in California and around the world.”

Geeta Anand and David Barstow

UC Berkeley journalism professors Geeta Anand, left, and David Barstow, right, utilized their relationships as former reporters with the New York Times to launch a California reporting initiative that allows their students to contribute to the publications comprehensive coverage of COVID-19. (Photos courtesy of Clara Mokri and Wesaam Al-Badry)

The first story by a Berkeley journalism student was published April 6 and focused on the lack of health care resources in Mammoth Lakes. The rural snow town in the Sierra Nevada mountains sits in Mono County, and has the state’s highest rate of coronavirus infection.

Reporter Annie Berman, who grew up in Connecticut, said reporting on the novel coronavirus for the Times allows her to set aside her own anxiety about COVID-19 and focus on reporting stories that will help the public navigate these unprecedented times.

“I haven’t worked this hard in my whole life,” she said. “But I am really thankful that our professors were able to channel our frustration into something that is the highlight of my Berkeley experience. … There is truly nothing else that I would want to be doing with my time right now.”

The partnership was initiated by Berkeley journalism professors David Barstow and Geeta Anand, both Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who worked on staff for the Times before joining the faculty at Berkeley.

Ricky Rodas sits at his desk working on his laptop

Berkeley graduate student Ricky Rodas is sheltering in place from his home in Los Angeles while working on reporting projects for the New York Times. (Photo courtesy of Thomas Rodas)

Barstow, the school’s Reva and David Logan Distinguished Chair in Investigative Journalism, said the collaboration would teach students to hold state and local governments accountable for their response during the largest public health crisis in a century.

“This is an invaluable learning opportunity,” said Anand, the director of the Investigative Reporting Program. “Students want to respond to this crisis with journalism that helps the public and policymakers understand where people are being left behind.”

Berkeley’s students have shown enthusiasm and determination in their reporting with the New York Times, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the journalism school, adding that the collaboration is an inspired idea that allows faculty and students to both educate and serve.

“This is a great experience for student journalists, and I hope that our coverage will benefit the people who need it the most,” said second-year journalism student Ricky Rodas. “Breaking a story right now means nothing if regular folks can’t use the information to better their lives.”