A Message About FRONTLINE’s Coronavirus Coverage From Our Executive Producer


(Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS; Center for Disease Control)

March 17, 2020

We are living in an unprecedented time. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, our daily lives are changing with dramatic speed. It’s difficult to predict exactly how this story will end, and what the ultimate human and economic toll will be.

As the FRONTLINE newsroom adopts social distancing measures and our producers apply new safety protocols, we are working tirelessly to bring you the facts, perspectives and stories that explain this historic moment.

Especially in times of uncertainty and fear, we feel it’s our duty as journalists in public media to bring you reporting that is clear-eyed and trustworthy — and that holds our leaders accountable. I’m writing to give you an update on what our documentary film teams are doing in the field right now in pursuit of that goal.

As I write this message, our correspondent Miles O’Brien is on the ground in Seattle, Washington, a U.S. epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. Miles, a veteran science journalist, is probing how the coronavirus response by officials in Washington State compares with that of the federal government in Washington, D.C.. It’s truly a tale of two Washingtons — and it will examine the consequences of the Trump administration’s diminishment of science.

Another of our producers, Jezza Neumann, was filming a documentary about inequality in America’s battleground states when the coronavirus outbreak exploded. He stayed put in Ohio. As schools there close, he and our Abrams Filmmaker-in-Residence Ben C. Solomon are documenting how the outbreak is impacting kids and families who were already facing hunger, poverty and homelessness — and how it is dramatically deepening these existing inequities.

Producer Sasha Achilli, meanwhile, is on her way to Northern Italy, where she was born and raised, where COVID-19 has quickly overwhelmed hospitals, and where the death toll is soaring. Sasha was part of the team that led our investigation into missteps in the global response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Sadly, the questions she raised then about global preparedness for the next big disease outbreak are now more relevant than ever.

We will break out key takeaways from our reporting on our website as we go, so please stay tuned. Miles and Jezza’s full reports will air April 21st on PBS as part of a special, two-part hour from FRONTLINE called Coronavirus Pandemic, while Sasha’s documentary is slated to air in May.

And we are working on more. Our correspondent Martin Smith is investigating the fragmented response abroad and at home, and producers James Jacoby and Anya Bourg are looking at the outbreak’s economic toll. 

While the impact of COVID-19 is a global story, its front lines are drawn locally, in cities, towns and communities where accurate and credible information can mean the difference between life and death. Through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Project, we are working with our partner newsrooms across the country — New Mexico PBS, the Tampa Bay Times, Oklahoma Watch, Milwaukee PBS and Rocky Mountain PBS — to add resources and editorial assistance to their coronavirus coverage. We’ll be publishing some of the stories that emerge from this collaboration across our platforms in the coming weeks.

We feel it’s critically important that we also continue our ongoing reporting on other key stories and issues. Next week, we’ll bring you a look at how the NRA, once one of the most feared forces in Washington, is now under fire on all sides. And the following Tuesday, in collaboration with NPR, we’ll bring you a documentary that reveals that very little of the plastic we use is ever actually recycled – and the plastics industry has essentially used recycling as a marketing tool to sell more plastic.

We are grateful for your support during these unsettled times. As we all navigate this moment together, thank you for your trust and for your continued belief in the importance of investigative journalism.

Raney Aronson-Rath, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Producer, FRONTLINE



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