Podcast Transcript: ‘Crash Course’ goes behind the stories

The ‘Crash Course’ newslet­ter team brings you behind the sto­ries this week with a pod­cast to hear from three Con­necti­cut polit­i­cal jour­nal­ists — from left, Daniela Alti­mari of The Hart­ford Courant, Emi­lie Mun­son of Hearst Con­necti­cut, and Amber Diaz of WTNH-TV. They talk about their expe­ri­ences cov­er­ing the 2020 elec­tion and the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic. We also asked them to tell us what issues they’ll be focus­ing on now that elec­tion sea­son is behind us.

Lis­ten to our spe­cial ‘Crash Course’ edi­tion of UConn Journalism’s Behind the Sto­ries pod­cast below. Keep scrolling for the transcript.


Episode music: ‘Acoustic Breeze’ by Ben Sound

Fiona Brady: [00:00:00] Hel­lo every­one and wel­come to the Crash Course Elec­tion 2020 pod­cast. I’m Fiona Brady.

Mike Mavredakis: [00:00:11] And I’m Mike Mavredakis.

Over the course of the fall semes­ter, we’ve been cov­er­ing the 2020 elec­tion with a team of UConn Jour­nal­ism stu­dents along­side pro­fes­sor Marie Shana­han. We cre­at­ed a week­ly newslet­ter to help our fel­low col­lege stu­dents nav­i­gate the over­whelm­ing amount of elec­tion news every week.

To help us in our mis­sion to con­dense the whirl­wind that was the 2020 elec­tion cycle,  we turned to jour­nal­ists, pro­fes­sors and experts for their insights through­out the process.

Fiona Brady: [00:00:37] We’ve learned a lot by look­ing at major elec­tion issues, such as race and polic­ing, health­care edu­ca­tion and cli­mate change. We focused on one major issue each week, and real­ly tried to break down the infor­ma­tion in a way that could be eas­i­ly understood.

Mike Mavredakis: [00:00:50] On this episode, our Crash Course team mem­bers are tak­ing you “Behind the Sto­ries” by talk­ing to jour­nal­ists about their expe­ri­ences cov­er­ing the elec­tion and the ongo­ing pan­dem­ic. They also gave us a look into what issues they’re focus­ing on now that the elec­tion sea­son is behind us.

Fiona Brady: [00:01:05] First, we’ll hear from Daniela Alti­mari,  a state gov­ern­ment and polit­i­cal reporter at the Hart­ford Courant. UConn Jour­nal­ism Senior Ash­ley Anglisano spoke to Daniela about the report­ing she did dur­ing the elec­tion cycle and the future for Con­necti­cut news. type

Ash­ley, tell us what you learned from talk­ing to Daniela.

Ash­ley Anglisano: [00:01:22] Daniela explained that 2021 will be anoth­er busy news year — with more Con­necti­cut bud­get dis­cus­sions,  con­tin­u­ing the focus on COVID as well as a pos­si­ble shift in Con­necti­cut polit­i­cal par­ties. Here’s what she said she focused on in her  elec­tion reporting.

Daniela Alti­mari: [00:01:36] Two things pri­mar­i­ly, look­ing at the nation­al elec­tion through the lens of Con­necti­cut.  the pres­i­den­tial race obvi­ous­ly  was a big one that I also wrote about the con­gres­sion­al races in Con­necti­cut, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the fifth dis­trict, which is the West­ern half of the state — because that was prob­a­bly one of the more com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts and the third dis­trict a lit­tle bit as well. That’s the new Haven area.

And I also wrote about some of the local races, although per­haps a lit­tle less about that.

Ash­ley Anglisano: [00:02:04] As a reporter, Daniela saw first­hand the ways in which this elec­tion year was unlike any other.

Daniela Alti­mari: [00:02:09] Well, it was as you know,  an elec­tion year, unlike any oth­er, cer­tain­ly quite extra­or­di­nary and not the least of which is that we did­n’t have a win­ner for what, five days after. That was kind of in some ways novel

Also,  vot­ing in the mid­dle of, of a pan­dem­ic and all the restric­tions that, that brought, and then the huge  influx of peo­ple vot­ing absen­tee. Those all made a real­ly sort of unusu­al elec­tion year.

Ash­ley Anglisano: [00:02:36] Now, that elec­tion cov­er­age is wrap­ping up, I asked Daniela what she’s shift­ing her focus to now.

Daniela Alti­mari: [00:02:40] I think for the time being, I’ll prob­a­bly be doing a lot more writ­ing about COVID vic­tims. that’s some­thing that I was doing ear­li­er this year and sort of the ear­ly stages of the pan­dem­ic when pol­i­tics kind of shut down. So I’ll prob­a­bly piv­ot more to that.

And then. You know, we have the leg­isla­tive ses­sion start­ing osten­si­bly in Jan­u­ary, and there’ll be a lot hap­pen­ing there.  we’re still not sure what form that will take if it will be online, pri­mar­i­ly if there’ll be some delays. So we’re sort of wait­ing to see, but there’s a lot of issues relat­ed to the pan­dem­ic and, and some of the oth­er things going on in the coun­try right now that the leg­is­la­ture will be tak­ing up. So it’s going to be pret­ty inter­est­ing. type here

Ash­ley Anglisano: [00:03:19] I also asked Daniela what she thinks Con­necti­cut res­i­dents should be focus­ing on. And she said 2021 will con­tin­ue to be a busy news year. She said we will see things in the news rang­ing from more racial inequal­i­ty dis­cus­sions, Con­necti­cut’s bud­get, and Con­necti­cut’s con­tin­ued response to COVID-19.

Daniela Alti­mari: [00:03:35] I think there’s going to be a lot hap­pen­ing this year on a num­ber of fronts. we had seen a lit­tle bit of  action over the sum­mer and a spe­cial ses­sion in response to the George Floyd killing and some of the dis­cus­sion that that’s found long over­due dis­cus­sion on racial inequities and things like that.

So I think we’ll be see­ing more of that, par­tic­u­lar­ly as it relates per­haps to hous­ing issues and edu­ca­tion issues. So. I think that’s going to be real­ly inter­est­ing and then sort of on a par­al­lel track there’s going to be, or there already is, in some ways a bud­get cri­sis. Con­necti­cut’s bud­get is always, always has its issues.

This year because the stock mar­ket has done so well that’s actu­al­ly alle­vi­at­ed some of the short-term prob­lems, but there’s also,  the costs it relat­ed to the pan­dem­ic. And there’s also a real dri­ve, I think, among some in the leg­is­la­ture to pro­vide some relief to busi­ness­es and indi­vid­u­als who have real­ly strug­gled to, to this health cri­sis. I think that some peo­ple are say­ing,   we can’t wait for Con­gress to get its act togeth­er because there does­n’t seem to be real­ly any­thing hap­pen­ing there, so peo­ple need relief now — restau­rants, small busi­ness­es, peo­ple who have been fur­loughed or unem­ployed, they need help. And the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment stepped in ear­ly on with a pack­age that many peo­ple said was­n’t real­ly big enough. And then that was it.

That’s gone now. I think there’s going to be sort of a lot of dis­cus­sion on that front as well.

Ash­ley Anglisano: [00:04:58] With a new pres­i­den­tial admin­is­tra­tion enter­ing the White House in 2021, Daniela said she’s inter­est­ed to see how it affects Con­necti­cut pol­i­tics, includ­ing the state of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can par­ties here in Connecticut.

Daniela Alti­mari: [00:05:09] I think it’s going to be inter­est­ing to see how many of these trends sort of last after Trump, at least for the Con­necti­cut Repub­li­can par­ty, did­n’t real­ly help their cause. The par­ty, you know, con­tin­ues to hold no seats in Con­gress. It con­tin­ues to be out­num­bered in the leg­is­la­ture. We have a gov­er­nor’s race com­ing up in two years. So I think it’ll be inter­est­ing to see what the impact will be and what Con­necti­cut Repub­li­cans will be doing. Will they be stick­ing with, if not Trump, the Trump doc­trine, the Trump phi­los­o­phy. Or,   will they sort of pull back and move more towards the mid­dle. Both paths have poten­tial risks and rewards.

So I think that’s going to be real­ly inter­est­ing. And then on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic side, I think it’s going to be fas­ci­nat­ing to see the strug­gles with­in the demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty.  There’s a real sort of almost a civ­il war going on between the sort of mod­er­ate per­haps the Biden wing of the par­ty,  the very sort of main­stream demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty. And then peo­ple on the left who are say­ing that this pan­dem­ic and some of the racial jus­tice issues that were raised over the sum­mer –point to a need to,  real­ly shift. And then you have,  big issues like cli­mate change and oth­er things that are on the hori­zon and the demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty has been much too sort of tepid and not real­ly seiz­ing the momen­tum on those issues.

So I think you’re going to see a strug­gle between those in the left and those in the cen­ter, with­in the demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty as well.  lit­tle bit of a  reflec­tion of the demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry when we had,  the Eliz­a­beth War­ren wing and the Bernie Sanders wing. And then obvi­ous­ly now we could call it the AOC wing,  ver­sus,  the more mod­er­ate,  May­or Pete,  Biden per­haps as well. So I think that strug­gle is going to be fas­ci­nat­ing to watch, to see which side wins that could do some dam­age to the par­ty as well. It real­ly could tear it apart or it could help it get stronger for the future. So those are kind of some of the things that I’ll be watching.

Mike Mavredakis: [00:07:02] Emi­lie Mun­son cov­ers both Con­necti­cut and New York pol­i­tics for Hearst, Con­necti­cut media and the Albany Times Union, and is based in Wash­ing­ton, DC.  UConn Jour­nal­ism senior Ben Crnic spoke to her about the nature of the 2020 elec­tion and how the pan­dem­ic affect­ed it as well as that, how it influ­enced elec­tions here in Connecticut.

Ben Crnic: [00:07:21] Emi­lie Mun­son has been cov­er­ing Con­necti­cut and New York pol­i­tics in Wash­ing­ton, DC since 2019 and focus­es on those Con­gres­sion­al del­e­ga­tions as well as the work of the fed­er­al agen­cies and how they touch on New York and Con­necti­cut specifically.

I asked her what her major take­aways are from this year’s elec­tion. And she explained that mul­ti­ple fac­tors com­bined put a unique strain on our elec­tion system.

Emi­lie Mun­son: [00:07:40] It def­i­nite­ly was an unusu­al year. We have not had such a stres­sor on our nation­al elec­tion sys­tem, like the pan­dem­ic for years and years and years. So, in a mat­ter of months before the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion States had to com­plete­ly re-con­ceive how they were going to man­age this elec­tion sys­tem from how would bal­lot be sent to vot­ers? How would vot­ers be able to access the bal­lot, whether that’s in per­son or in their home? The absen­tee sys­tem.  To how would those bal­lots be count­ed and how with the safe­ty of poll work­ers be pre­served so much of this elec­tion was re-imagined.

And then you lay­er on top of it   such,  a polar­iz­ing can­di­date as pres­i­dent Trump who has intense, pop­u­lar sup­port amongst his base and also extreme ani­mos­i­ty on the left.

And so, you know, those two fac­tors real­ly made it dif­fer­ent than any oth­er year. You know, now that we can look back and reflect on the elec­tion, I think we saw that in the turnout that many, many peo­ple felt ener­gized. By the, pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. And that real­ly had a trick­le-down effect through races all the way down bal­lot. And we saw a lot of unex­pect­ed results in house races in par­tic­u­lar.  It was a fas­ci­nat­ing year, you know, as some­one who enjoys gov­ern­ment , the elec­tion sys­tem stuff was real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing to cov­er those prepa­ra­tions and the strain on the system.

And then,  from the polit­i­cal and cam­paign side, watch­ing two very dif­fer­ent pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates wres­tle it out in a year in which they’re not able to cam­paign in the nor­mal ways where they have to com­plete­ly alter their mes­sag­ing to take into account the fact that we’re now in the midst of a severe eco­nom­ic down­turn. Yeah, it was crazy.

Ben Crnic: [00:09:36] I also asked Emi­ly about what she thought of elec­tions here in Con­necti­cut. And she talked about how she thinks the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion may have had a ben­e­fi­cial effect on Repub­li­can can­di­dates here in the state.

Emi­lie Mun­son: [00:09:45] we did see the heat of the pres­i­den­tial race trick­le down into some of our local races.  The most com­pet­i­tive race in Con­necti­cut in 2020 was that between,  U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes and her chal­lenger, Repub­li­can David Sul­li­van, that was in the fifth dis­trict, which is the most pur­ple dis­trict in Con­necti­cut — although it’s been rep­re­sent­ed by a Demo­c­rat for some years now.

And then in addi­tion, in the third dis­trict, that’s where,  U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLau­ro is,  she had her strongest chal­lenger in decades this year,  a Repub­li­can can­di­date who was able to pour a lot of her own per­son­al funds into the race. Her name was Mar­garet Streicker.

She made Rosa DeLau­ro go on TV for the first time, since 1992, I believe,  take­out adver­tis­ing and, and both, both those rep­re­sen­ta­tives went on to, to win their races.  But we do see that there can be kin­da com­pet­i­tive races in Con­necti­cut and cer­tain­ly with the right can­di­date and the right com­bi­na­tion of per­son­al back­ground fund­ing and mes­sage a Repub­li­can can­di­date could suc­ceed in one of these dis­tricts in Connecticut.

Ben Crnic: [00:11:05] Okay well, thanks for talk­ing to me. It’s def­i­nite­ly inter­est­ing hear­ing from some­one in the business.

Emi­lie Mun­son: [00:11:09] Yeah, no prob­lem. Thanks for hav­ing me on your show here.

Fiona Brady: [00:11:20] Now we’ll hear from Amber Diaz, a tele­vi­sion news reporter at WTNH News 8 in New Haven, UConn Jour­nal­ism Senior Alli­son O’Don­nell has that con­ver­sa­tion for us. Alison?

Alli­son O’Don­nell: [00:11:30] The long­time jour­nal­ist began work­ing at News 8 in March at the begin­ning of Amer­i­ca’s ongo­ing pan­dem­ic response. In the midst of an already unique elec­tion year COVID has become a press­ing polit­i­cal topic.

Diaz speaks on how report­ing dur­ing a pan­dem­ic is dif­fer­ent, but also an impor­tant job for journalists.

Amber Diaz: [00:11:47] I signed a con­tract to come back home because I’m a Con­necti­cut native in March, and I lit­er­al­ly moved right when the pan­dem­ic struck the U S well, obvi­ous­ly we we’re, we’re hear­ing now that, you know, it prob­a­bly hap­pened in Decem­ber, but,  when we first real­ly start­ed report­ing and, and col­lect­ing data on it, that was in March.

So it’s, it’s been tough. Yeah. It has been tough.  As reporters, when we go out into the field, we have to adhere to safe­ty pro­to­cols. So we have these long poles, if you will, they real­ly are poles that hold the mic. They extend six to eight feet. Always have to have a mask on at all times.

We’ve been lit­er­al­ly soak­ing our hands and hand san­i­tiz­er. I’m sure you guys have too. And clean­ing your areas. That’s a big thing just to keep us healthy and safe. And in regards to the com­pa­ny itself, we have a lot of our pro­duc­ers now that are work­ing remote from home. And, we are separated.

So the reporters and the pho­tog­ra­phers are upstairs in the build­ing and the anchors are down­stairs at our desks. So it’s, it’s been tough. type

Alli­son O’Don­nell: [00:12:52] Amber told me that news does­n’t stop. But COVID has changed the way jour­nal­ists report and con­duct inter­views. So I had to ask Amber if these changes affect the qual­i­ty of reporting.

Amber Diaz: [00:13:02] That’s actu­al­ly a real­ly good ques­tion, Alli­son. Yeah, I would say –yes in short to answer that ques­tion, the one dif­fi­cul­ty I find is with the zoom inter­views, cause we’re doing a lot and a major­i­ty of the time now I’m anchor­ing Mon­day through Fri­day and that’s what we do. We just do the zoom interviews.

It’s real­ly tough because it’s not as per­son­al when you’re sit­ting across from some­one, you usu­al­ly get a read on how they feel or their stance and how they’re act­ing and their demeanor. And it’s real­ly tough to tell on zoom calls. I feel more often than not peo­ple tend to act more robot­ic on zoom calls, unfor­tu­nate­ly.  It’s just, it’s not as personal.

In regards to sto­ry qual­i­ty, more per­son­al sto­ries are com­ing out than they nor­mal­ly would. I would say that obvi­ous­ly a lot of peo­ple have been affect­ed by COVID. Peo­ple have died. Peo­ple have just been sick for months. So that’s real­ly been real­ly, what’s been hap­pen­ing in that regard.

Alli­son O’Don­nell: [00:14:00] One of Amber’s sto­ries is about a COVID vac­cine tri­al can­di­date. Not every­one wants this vac­cine, which is why I had to ask Amber about what it’s like report­ing on a news event that’s con­stant­ly evolving.

Amber Diaz: [00:14:11] Well, this is the thing every­one’s going to have their opin­ion. Right? So for exam­ple, last night, I spoke to a man who is the direc­tor of the com­mu­ni­ty com­mu­ni­ca­tions, excuse me, direc­tor at the Shu­bert the­ater. He par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Pfiz­er vac­cine tri­al in August — August 28th. It’s the first of two, he got his first or two injections.

He has ded­i­cat­ed his body to sci­ence for the next two years. Now it was a blind study. He does­n’t know whether he got the COVID vac­cine or if he got a place­bo. So the rea­son why I tell you this is because he want­ed to tell his sto­ry as to why we should be get­ting it. There were a lot of peo­ple who don’t believe in it. A lot of peo­ple who still think COVID is not real.  That is say­ing a lot, so report­ing on it and, and hav­ing these peo­ple who are vouch­ing for the vac­cine and com­par­ing it to the peo­ple who,  don’t want to get it.

It’s been a strug­gle and I feel like a lot of the time you can’t con­vince them. They’re just gonna think what they want to think. So it’s good to have those exam­ples of those peo­ple who are going through it have expe­ri­enced it, why they want to do it. And for this gen­tle­man’s case, he was tired. He told me of see­ing peo­ple around him die and pass away. And I asked him, why did you take part in the trial?

And were you scared? He goes, well, I feel like I want­ed to take part in some­thing that will con­tribute to being a solu­tion. And no, I was­n’t scared. I’m more afraid of COVID than I am the vaccine.

Alli­son O’Don­nell: [00:15:49] Jour­nal­ism has this pow­er to change the way that peo­ple view things like the vac­cine, I think.

Amber Diaz: [00:15:55] Set­ting that exam­ple is key. And obvi­ous­ly we’re not sup­posed to have an opin­ion, but I’m gonna say this any­ways. Our cur­rent pres­i­dent in office — it’s been tough report­ing on that as well, because we do get a lot of flack. Even report­ing on Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden. You can’t say any­thing right now, nowa­days you just can’t.

There’s a lot of ten­sion. So it’s your bias if you’re sent to a Trump ral­ly that you’re you’re for Trump for. Or you’re biased, if you go to a Joe Biden ral­ly. So,  even if you’re unbi­ased in your report­ing, some­one will find some­thing.  it’s dif­fi­cult, but yeah, back to what you were say­ing, it’s it real­ly shows, you know, that that’s that’s lead­er­ship, you know, show­ing that, Hey, it’s okay, do it, get it.

Alli­son O’Don­nell: [00:16:39] Amber men­tioned, this is some­thing that’s big­ger than us. And that’s where I think jour­nal­is­tic objec­tiv­i­ty becomes impor­tant. Does COVID take on a more emo­tion­al stance than sim­ply just report­ing the facts.

Amber Diaz: [00:16:52] I think a lit­tle bit of both,  if I’m being total­ly hon­est and in full trans­paren­cy, a lit­tle bit of both.

You’re get­ting to know these peo­ple who are hav­ing to say good­bye too ear­ly to the ones they love. We’re human too. I mean, it’s our job, but we’re human too. So hav­ing that emo­tion kind of draws the view­er in,  not kind of it does, it draws the view­er in, they can relate and then they can make a decision.

Hey, do I want to get the vac­cine or do I not? What is right for me? So,  I would say a lit­tle bit of both. Obvi­ous­ly you always have to vet your sto­ries and,  report the facts, but let your inter­views do the talk­ing, let them tell the sto­ry. If that means a longer sound bite, then that’s what it is. It’s a longer sound bite.

And it’s all about emo­tion right now, even in the, in the polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment or atmos­phere rather. It’s, it’s all about emotion.

Alli­son O’Don­nell: [00:17:47] Before I let you go. Is there any­thing else that you want to add?

Amber Diaz: [00:17:50] I would just hope that stu­dents and just peo­ple in gen­er­al don’t lose faith in the demo­c­ra­t­ic system.

And I would just say, don’t, don’t lose hope. Don’t lose faith. This has been a real­ly tough  year and elec­tion cycle and we still have the right to vote.  and yeah, I, I just, I urge every­one to just have faith and, and yeah.

Alli­son O’Don­nell: [00:18:17] Okay.  Awe­some. Thank you so much.

Amber Diaz: [00:18:20] You’re so very welcome.

Mike Mavredakis: [00:18:29] We hope you enjoyed a peek behind the scenes from this elec­tion cycle.

Fiona Brady: [00:18:32] We want to thank the jour­nal­ists, pro­fes­sors and experts who took the time to share their insights with us this semes­ter, and to our sub­scribers for fol­low­ing our cov­er­age. We real­ly enjoyed bring­ing you these sto­ries every week, and we hope you’ll con­tin­ue to fol­low UConn Jour­nal­ism stu­dents next semes­ter, as they con­tin­ue to cov­er new issues.

Thank you for lis­ten­ing. I’m Fiona Brady.

Mike Mavredakis: [00:18:50] And I’m Mike Mavredakis. Thank you for check­ing out our newslet­ter and make sure to sub­scribe to the UConn Jour­nal­ism pod­cast feed so that you can catch future episodes of this pod­cast. Thank you.

Sub­scribe to the UConn Jour­nal­ism Behind the Sto­ries pod­cast feed on Sound­cloud or Apple Pod­casts.

Report­ing for this episode is brought to you by UConn Jour­nal­ism majors Ash­ley Anglisano, Ben Crnic and Alli­son O’Donnell, with Fiona Brady and Mike Mavredakis as your hosts. The project was over­seen by Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor Marie K. Shana­han. Read more about us »