#CoveringCOVID is a virtual series of one-on-one interviews with our reporters, where we pull back the curtain to better understand how they do their jobs and how the pandemic has changed it all.
This week WBUR CitySpace events and programming manager Alex Schneps interviews digital producer writer Ally Jarmanning.
Ally Jarmanning: I'm Ally Jarmanning. I'm a digital producer at WBUR.
Alex Schneps: What does the digital team do at WBUR?
Ally: So the digital team, basically, any Internet thing for WBUR that you look at comes out of the digital team. So that's going to be wbur.org, newsletters, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Really our biggest thing is strategizing and editing the copy that comes from the newroom, developing our own copy and getting the news out on a completely different platform than the radio. I've also done a ton of our data vis lately working with our web developer Daigo, just to figure out like we have all this data coming in about cases every single day, hospitalizations. How do we make that look good and how do we get that accessible to our readers online right now? And really like since this happened, the number of people who visited our site has been insane for us.
Alex: What are those numbers? Do you know, off the top of your head?
Ally: Our web traffic has basically doubled sense since this all started. I think the biggest difference between before time and now is like the volume of news is just like [big gesture]. All the time. Like it's like a breaking news situation every hour.
Alex: What would the typical process look like from, you know that there's a story happening and you know it's going to come to digital? So from idea inception to execution, what does it look like?
Ally: So I'll give you the breaking news situation and I'll give you the feature situation. Deb Becker tells us that a prisoner died at the prison in Shirley. We might ask her for, "Hey, can you write up a post right now so we can get that online?" Maybe even before something goes on air. For features, I think almost every feature is going to have... and features, for people who don't know, are the longer pieces that you'll hear on air. The three, four or five minute pieces that are beautiful and sound rich and are amazing. Nobody wants to just listen to a story on the Internet. They want to be able to read the story and see the photos and everything. So we'll work with the reporter to find out, you know, "What photos do you need?" "What can we visually do to make this story as interesting as possible?" If you're a radio reporter, you need to figure out, "Ok, what's my radio story going to sound like and how am I going to package that?" And then you need to take your radio story and be like, "Ok, how do I make this into a digital story? Like, how do I make it make sense to read?"
Alex: I've also heard that you are a big fan of data and public records. Why do you enjoy these things so much and why are they important for journalism?
Ally: So I think the real honest answer is because I'm nosy [laughs] which really helps in this line of work. But public records are your chance to find out... to get those receipts of what is going on. Yeah, I think it's a really important time to be putting in those kind of public records requests to be able to uncover things that aren't necessarily going to be uncovered without it.
Alex: Since your job already focused on the online world, was your life pre-pandemic very different than it is now?
Ally: I went into the office. So that was... I used to be around other people and wear real pants. That was something that happened.
Alex: I won't ask you whether you're doing that currently.
Ally: I mean, I look good up here, right?
Ally: Yeah. I mean, I worked really... I'm an extrovert. Like, I love being around my colleagues. They are amazing people. I get a lot of energy off of them. And now I'm at home with my husband and my dog. And not that I don't love them, but like there needs to be some variety, you know?
Alex: Did you feel any sort of obligation to usher the rest of the station into the digital realm?
Ally: I think the thing that this has put pressure on is the workflow, you know, like there's just so much happening all the time that we have to figure out the right way to to work in order to make sure it all gets done. Being able to be in person, you can like go up to someone and be like, "Hey, when what do you think that post is gonna be done?" Or there was just less happening, you know? And of course, we had like busy days all the time, but it wasn't like everyone was busy all the time like it is now.
Alex: Which is crazy to me because we're already in a in a relentless 24 hour news cycle, which I imagine must mean that our audience is experiencing some overload in all of this information, especially about one thing. Do you think that this is going to continue through this entire crisis?
Ally: I mean, we have seen when we have a non-coronavirus story, they do well, you know. People want to read and listen to other kinds of news and even like something like this, like so this is a coronavirus story but it brought me so much joy: Amelia Mason had a piece, I think it was it was this week, about how Mass. Art students are like adjusting to working like from home on art projects where you don't have access to studio space. Like, how do you do that? And one of the teachers had them all drawing chickens every day, melting your Barbie dolls into like something else.
Alex: Every parent's dream. If you have kids watching, do not follow these directions.
Ally: Don't light anything on fire. You know another thing? So we have this Slack channel called #yay. I don't know if you've seen that before, but it is one of my favorite channels because it's like we're lifting up each other's work in big ways and small. Our developer who created a bot that scrapes the the department of public health website to flag us when there's new case numbers every day so somebody is not furiously refreshing. It made a huge difference in like how we're able to work. And so just being able to like celebrate each other and be so grateful for how wonderful all of our colleagues are, it makes me really glad to work where I work.
Alex: All right, Ally. Well, thank you. I appreciate you taking time out of what is an incredibly busy moment in our lives to just talk about how all this stuff happens.
Ally: Yeah. Thank you for doing this. It's been really fun to watch my colleagues to talk about themselves and their work.
Alex: If you would like to check out all of WBUR's coronavirus coverage, make sure you go to wbur.org or wbu.org/coronavirus and always listen to 90.9 FM. Thank you, Ally.
Ally: Thank you.
Producer - Alex Schneps
Assistant Producer - Candice Springer
Technical Advisor - Niall Foley
Music and Audio Mixing - Adam Straus
Animation - Michael Diffin