Saturday, January 16

How Readers Helped The Guardian Cover The Coronavirus Pandemic | Coronavirus


It’s hard to remember exactly when the penny fell, when we realized that the story we were trying to cover was not only the story of our lives, it would change all of our lives.

We started writing about the coronavirus at the beginning of the year. A scientific curiosity, apparently, without a name. By the third week of January, our reporters in the region were describing the first “human-to-human” transmissions.

And then from The Guardian headquarters in London, we watched the inexorable and terrifying spread of Covid-19 through China and beyond, an unstoppable wave gathering strength and speed.

Work at The Guardian began to change. The international editor, Jamie Wilson, reported every day by his correspondents in Asia, was ahead of us all, although he seemed a bit of a stretch when he taped a large bottle of hand sanitizer on his desk and suggested that the press meetings be held. out in bigger places. rooms to facilitate social distancing.

However, he was right. We quickly moved to make our newsroom as secure as possible, with the vast majority of our journalists heading home to work remotely. And then we undertook the kind of work we knew would be vital in a health crisis like this: holding power to account and publicizing mistakes that could cost lives.

We know that many digital and newspaper readers give us money in the form of subscriptions and contributions for that very reason: dedicating resources to investigative journalism that unearths errors, muddles and embezzlements, and helps us correct our course.

Our journalists, and our readers, quickly caught on to all three in the official response to the coronavirus. Sources and members of the public told us in real time the panic on the front lines of the hospitals, the spiral of deaths in the nursing homes; and they have been quick to highlight the inconsistencies, shortcomings and apparent hypocrisies of the ministers and their advisers.

We have often used first-person pieces from people who have contacted us, as we did in mid-March when a doctor spoke to our health correspondent Denis Campbell and described working in a “red zone” coronavirus ward.

“I’m terrified,” he said. “I am seriously considering whether I can continue to work as a doctor.”

Photograph looking through rows of empty desks with computers under strip lights in The Guardian newsroom
The Guardian newsroom in March, shortly after the lockdown was introduced. It remains almost empty. Photograph: Mark Rice-Oxley / The Guardian

At the time, there was confusion about personal protective equipment (PPE) – what should doctors and nurses wear?

And we heard disturbing accounts that suggested the country was running out of masks, gowns, and goggles that would help keep our doctors safe.

It was, and some of the reasons that were revealed in our reports on EPP emergency stock management, that it does not appear to have been as comprehensive as it should have been.

And it wasn’t as if our emergency planners in Whitehall hadn’t seen it coming. They had done so and had been warning ministers about what to do for a decade.

Yet it has been human stories that have resonated.

Figures and charts presented at daily Downing Street press conferences showed the cold reality of rising death rates and infections, but the tragedy of what was happening in UK nursing homes came from intimate descriptions such as that of Julie Roche, who runs a house in Buckinghamshire. She told our reporter Robert Booth about a woman trying to say goodbye to her husband. They did not allow him to enter to see it, but he greeted through a window.

She handed Roche a bottle of her perfume in hopes of establishing a final connection with her husband. “She asked me to put it under her chin so that hopefully she could smell it,” Roche said. “They came, said goodbye and told him that it was okay to leave. I could see he broke his wife’s heart. “

As the death toll in the UK continues to rise sharply, there are countless vignettes; some have been captured in our focus on the victims, which could not have been collected without the help of family and friends of the deceased.

An individual Covid-19 story has garnered more media attention than most: Boris Johnson’s svengali Dominic Cummings.

The Guardian was the first to reveal that he was sitting at Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. This revelation horrified many scientists. Another revelation about him seemed to horrify most of the country.

When our investigation showed that Cummings had traveled from London to Durham during the lockdown, then made a 50-mile round trip to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight, only the most servile Tory MPs and government supporters in Fleet Street were prepared to Defend the Indefensible.

The story haunted Cummings until departure six months later. But it did not reach the Guardian through contacts in Westminster. It came from readers, who told us what they had seen. Some, like retired chemistry professor Robin Lees, were brave enough to publish their stories.

These kinds of revelations are at the heart of what we do. Without the support of newspaper and online readers, we would have fewer resources for the painstaking, painstaking news journalism that often takes months to make the front page. Whether you’re a subscriber, supporter, regular newspaper, or occasional contributor, you’ve done your bit to get these stories out there.

Throughout 2020, The Guardian journalists have worked the watch to discover the truth about the pandemic. Because good journalism can help save lives. Support independent media. Support the guardian.

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