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2020 in Review: Stories on Climate Change, COVID-19 budgets, and the election

NewsHour Weekend producer Sam Weber joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss this year’s "Roads to Election 2020" coverage: taking a whole show on the road during the pandemic, keeping climate change front and center and finding and telling election stories that were a little off the beaten path.

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  • Michael Hill:

    At year's end, we like to introduce you to some of the producers and reporters behind the stories on our broadcast. Hari Sreenivasan spoke with producer Sam Weber about some of the road trips they were able to take in the lead up to the election.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Sam, we are one of the few teams that were able to go out this year and we actually decided to take the whole show on the road because we weren't in the studio anyway. So one of the places we went, North Carolina, refresh our viewers on why we went there.

  • Sam Weber:

    It was a really fascinating time to be in the state. Early voting had already started and we concentrated on the race that was a little bit more off the beaten path, the race for the state agriculture commissioner, and focused on a young challenger who was really putting climate change at sort of the center of her campaign. And running against an incumbent who'd been there for a long time. It was a really interesting race to follow because climate change was so much at the front and center of that race.

    And North Carolina is a state that really has felt like it's really feeling the effects of climate change already. And one of the things that we focused on in that story was Hurricane Florence, which was only two years earlier and had massive effects across the state, including the flooding across really huge swaths of the eastern half of the state.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And this is a topic that when we asked viewers of NewsHour Weekend what they wanted to hear more of, an overwhelming number of audience members said climate stories were incredibly important to them.

  • Sam Weber:

    That's exactly right. And I think that was really something that we really tried to keep in the front and center of our minds as we were going forward with our election coverage and thinking about what was out there, what what were other people covering and what were really the things that we felt was important. But also, as you point out, our viewers thought was really important.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And just a reminder, she did not win, is that correct?

  • Sam Weber:

    That's right. Jenna Wadsworth was a soil and conservation district supervisor in Wake County. She did not win. Steve Troxler ended up winning that seat, it'll be his fifth consecutive term.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Another place we decided to go to — Ohio. Why?

  • Sam Weber:

    Well, this was another place where a really traditional swing state and of course, there's a lot of different stories happening in that area. But we really went there to focus on the story that was happening all over the place, which was how municipal finances were being affected by the COVID-19 crisis. We did two separate stories looking at two different cities, one, Dayton, which is sort of a Democratic stronghold, a little bit of a bigger city on the western half of the state, that it really felt the pinch from COVID-19. And it was really, in the absence of additional federal help, is really concerned that even its police and fire numbers might potentially go down next year.

    And then we also did a story in Lancaster, Ohio, in a much more conservative area southeast of Columbus. And there, there was a campaign to actually encourage voters — for the third time, it was actually the third time is going to be on the ballot to get them to raise their own income taxes.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And third time was the charm?

  • Sam Weber:

    Third time was the charm. It did pass by about seven points.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And Sam, just for our audience's understanding. Give them an idea of what kinds of safety precautions you and I and anybody else in the field are taking when we go and do these stories.

  • Sam Weber:

    We all took tests before we left. I drove to both Ohio and North Carolina in an effort to sort of make sure that we were able to sort of stay a socially-distanced as possible. I mean, we're basically masked the entire time with the sort of the very exception of when we're ready to literally roll in interview. And then we're, of course, tested when we come back.

    And I think, you know, Zoom interviews like this have been tremendous in being able to really expand the reach of the number of people that we're able to talk to in the places that we can go. But they're really, both visually and really also to really get a sense empathetically of someone's story, it really does, I think, mean a lot to actually be there on the ground with people, even if it was a little bit of a schlep in the car.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Sam Weber, thanks so much and happy holidays.

  • Sam Weber:

    Thanks. Thanks so much. You too.

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