Three UC Santa Cruz alumni from the Science and Communications Program discussed the challenges of being a journalist covering COVID-19 amidst positive tests, inconsistent facts, and self isolation. 

The Global Data, Personal Stories: Journalists Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic online forum was hosted by Erika Check Hayden, UCSC’s Director of Science Communication (SciCom) Master’s Program. 

The event featured alumni Nicholas St. Fleur, Julia Calderone, and Nsikan Akpan, all of whom graduated in 2014 from the SciCom program at UCSC and became professional journalists covering the pandemic. 

All three alumni explored the challenges of living through a story they are simultaneously responsible for covering. 

“I don’t think people realize just how bad these infections can be, even if it’s so-called mild to moderate because I think at that point most people hadn’t really caught COVID,” said Akpan regarding his experience reporting on contracting COVID-19. “I just really haven’t seen a story that has walked through the symptoms. I just felt the need to do it.”

Calderone won a Pulitzer for her work on the New York Times COVID-19 Case Tracker, which provided up to date information on current COVID-19 tests, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

During the event, Calderone shared that working on the case tracker for the New York Times is what kept her going throughout the pandemic. 

“Millions of people are coming to our site every single day. We were providing a service for readers that the federal government was not providing,” Calderone said.

Nicholas St. Fleur elaborated on the sense of responsibility journalists take on in reporting on topics of public health. He continued, talking about his family’s history of colorectal cancer and his documentation of the disease. 

The alumni shared communal stories and memories throughout the event, displaying the connections made through being classmates and the pride each had in one another. 

“You get this kind of responsibility as a journalist, especially in the beats that we cover, where you are entrusted to tell these super personal, sometimes heartbreaking stories,” St. Fleur said. 

As the discussion closed, panelists opened a Q&A segment for guests to ask questions regarding the pandemic, avoiding misinformation, and informing those around us who may believe false information. 

While finding correct information and knowing how to spot red flags in the news takes individual practice, the forum showcases the success derived from UCSC programs. 

“I think the program taught us to be just skeptical, and not take anything at face value,” said Calderone. 

This article was part of a CHP backlog, this piece was originally written during the week of April 24.