Darian Benson, B.A.J. ’19, a reporter for Side Effects Public Media, a Midwest health reporting collaboration based out of WFYI, created her first story about COVID-19 in February of 2020. She covered Indiana’s first case of the coronavirus for the Indianapolis NPR and PBS station, and she has described to listeners various aspects of the pandemic and how it has changed Hoosiers’ lives.
“My reporting tends to focus on minority groups and how public health crises like COVID-19 and systemic racism affect these groups,” Benson said. “I have reported on how addiction treatment resources have had to adapt because of the virus, and on Indianapolis’ efforts to combat race disparities and COVID-19.”
Benson said the first few weeks of covering COVID-19 were hard.
“As the virus intensified and everything became a ‘coronavirus story,’ WFYI’s newsroom shifted its focus, and the work was divided between everyone,” she said. “Every beat had a COVID-19 story they could tackle.”
The newsroom staff started working from home on March 13, 2020, which has at times presented challenges for Benson.
“As a public radio reporter, sound is such an important part of my stories,” she said. “When working from home, almost all of the interviews I do are over the phone. I have equipment to record those interviews. It’s not the best sound, but our team has agreed that it’s more important to get the information to the public rather than worry about the perfect radio.”
Benson actually records many of her stories in her car.
“It’s funny when neighbors walk by,” she said. “Our mics are very sensitive and even the slightest outside sound can be distracting. So, we often record in our cars or closets with blankets over our heads to create sound barriers. It gets super hot, but it’s better quality.”
As Benson reflected on her experience of working as a journalist through a pandemic, she noted that most of the time, members of the media cover stories they are not a part of. But, since COVID-19 is a global crisis, reporters are also affected by the story, she said.
“As journalists, we are both covering the virus and living through it,” Benson said. “I am getting so much experience early on in my career because so much is newsworthy [right now].”
Benson credits some of her success to her School of Liberal Arts education.
“I am so grateful for IUPUI’s journalism program and the professors who have turned into mentors,” she said. “I truly believe the experiences and teachers I had prepared me so well for covering this city.”