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2020 in review: “The story is right outside.”

We’ve been looking back at some of the stories from 2020 with our team of producers here at NewsHour Weekend. Segment producer Mori Rothman joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how producing changed in 2020: reporting on stories, like the George Floyd protests and the pandemic, that happened much closer to home; and going on the road, safely, to cover the election.

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  • Michael Hill:

    We continue with our look back on the stories from 2020 with producer Mori Rothman.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mori, in the news business there's always what we think the story is and then what the story turns out to be, this year we were planning on covering one big story and then that changed.

  • Mori Rothman:

    Yeah, I mean, we came into this year fully planning that we were going to cover the presidential election, kind of figuring out what states we were going to hit, possibly even a road trip. Obviously, a lot of things changed in March through the coronavirus and then later through Black Lives Matter. Those ended up being the major stories, but what was interesting about those was that those became the kind of vehicles to which people thought about the election and began participating maybe even more in our democracy.

    And for us as reporters, our roles changed a little bit as well. Usually, you and I are traveling somewhere around the U.S. covering an issue that people may not have heard about or somewhere in another country talking about an issue that relates back to something back home. This year, I could cover protests going on down the block and might see a neighbor carrying a sign or we'd hear the sirens of ambulances going to hospitals with possible coronavirus.

    And so the story is right outside. And I think that as a result of the stories being so close to home, some of our reporting became more personal.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So remind people, one of the places we took the show on the road this year was Pennsylvania, we were in Bethlehem, why?

  • Mori Rothman:

    Yeah, we went to Bethlehem, which is the birthplace of Bethlehem Steel, because we wanted to cover the election in some way still. Pennsylvania is pretty close to New York and northeast Pennsylvania, where Bethlehem is– is a swing district. We talked to a lot of people about the election and how they were feeling. And one of the main themes that emerged was that people were feeling frustrated with what was happening with the coronavirus and they didn't really know where to place that frustration. Some people placed it with state leaders and felt that the lockdown was overly harsh and was hurting their business. Others blamed President Trump for the lack of what they thought was a coordinated plan to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    Beyond the coronavirus, people still cared about the major issues of economics, health care, and especially in a place like Bethlehem that has seen some hard times before. When the steel plant closed in the 90s, people still really care about what's going on with their wallets. And what we found was that while a lot of President Trump's speeches in areas like Bethlehem, Harrisburg, other places talked about the return of heavy industry and hearkened back to the old steel days, the region had really moved on. In the Lehigh Valley, where we did a lot of reporting, there's a new economy that has to do with e-commerce, biotech, med, and eds.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You and I worked on a story for a special, an update on race and policing, remind our audience what that was about and maybe even what's happened since then.

  • Mori Rothman:

    Yeah, so in the beginning of the summer, when the Black Lives Matter protests were going on in almost every city in America, we decided to do a special on policing. And one of the issues that you and I focused on was facial recognition technology being used by police. The same week that we aired that special, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon all put a sliding scale of restrictions on what they would do in terms of selling facial recognition to police or to public authorities.

    This has continued to be a major issue as elected officials look to answer the call that Black Lives Matter protests put out with actual legislative action. There's a couple of bills in the Senate that have been introduced over the summer, one that would curb the use of facial recognition by corporations and another that would look to stop facial recognition use in federal capacities. And it's an issue that is going to continue to be debated into 2021, a couple of cities, Portland, Oregon, Madison, Wisconsin among others, passed bans on facial recognition. And recently, Massachusetts has been waging a major police reform bill. And one of the sticking points is the use of facial recognition.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Mori Rothman, thanks for all your stories this year, happy holidays.

  • Mori Rothman:

    Thanks so much. Happy holidays.

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