#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 general assignment reporter Quincy Walters.
Quincy: I'm Quincy Walters. I'm a general assignment reporter for WBUR.
Alex: Before the pandemic began, what what did a typical workday look like?
Quincy Walters: So as a general assignment reporter, usually no day is typical. Sometimes you get in and you'll have to do a story about a topic you have no knowledge about. I would say that a lot of elements of the job or are sort of like getting an assignment and deciding whether or not this is something that's sort of like a main course, or something that's a vegetable, or something that's a dessert. And so, you know, it's it's really nice when you get things that are kind of like desserts when you're like, "Wow, this is an interesting subject that I, I am very eager to do." Or sometimes it's something like vegetables, like an explainer on a ballot initiative.
Alex Schneps: I really like that you put that in terms of food because now I completely understood what you meant.
Alex: Today is Tuesday, June 2nd. It's a little over a week since George Floyd's death. And you've been covering the protests that ensued in Boston this past weekend.
Quincy in BBC video clip: "What this is also, I guess, conjured up is an awareness of other black people who have been killed by police here in Boston. Protesters are asking that those cases be reopened, reexamined, and that just awareness is brought to the fore about black people who've been killed by Boston police in the past few years."
Alex: When you're covering something like this, what is your strategy? I mean, how do you begin thinking about coverage?
Quincy: Right. So, you know, when you're covering a protest pre-COVID, the order of operations for me at least are the same, where you try to talk to as many people as you can. And you try to get a feel for what the message is. The interesting thing is, you know, despite the the horrific circumstances that sort of launched these protests, covering the protests last week felt sort of normal, which is, it feels so weird. Is it weird to say that it felt sort of my job felt like how it felt before the pandemic started?
Alex: In what ways did it feel normal?
Quincy: Yeah, because it was just, you know, it was something that was not COVID-19 related. It was sort of like one of the few days since the pandemic started that the pandemic was wasn't sort of, it didn't have a monopoly on the news cycle, I guess, which is also very weird thing to experience.
Alex: I mean, it just it highlights how important these current events are. And so, one of the other things that I wanted to ask you about is... There have been so many terrifying instances of police interactions with journalists covering these protests and even arresting them when they were only doing their jobs. And this was especially prevalent with black journalists and other journalists of color. So I'm wondering, did you have any fear yourself of this happening to you while you were covering the protests?
Quincy: So I don't think it was any more of a fear last week than it has been in the past. Doing my job as a black journalist, you know, I've sort of been antagonized by the police. It's always a thought for me. But it was no more of a thought than it usually is. My approach is that, you know, my job is to chronicle the things that are going on. And also, you know, share what people are saying and what people are feeling. And so I feel like that responsibility, sort of, in some measure, trumps my fears or anxieties. So that's also another way that I approach my job.
Alex: Were you able to take any safety precautions? Did you notice people having an awareness or were they really just sort of keyed into what they were there to protest and what they were there to support? And the pandemic just really took a backseat?
Quincy: Yeah. So I think it was like it was a balance of the two. I was sort of cognizant not to be too close to people unless I had to or unless it was unavoidable. And so also it seemed that almost everyone there were wearing masks.
Alex: So what about social distancing? It seems like this is an impossible... It's a contradiction to be protesting as a group, as a community, and to also be responsibly social distancing.
Quincy: Right. Right. And so it... it's impossible to do it. You can't you can't have a protest and socially distance. And I think that's the the thinking the feeling behind it is that, you know this... this ill of of police brutality and racism have existed long before COVID-19. And for some people, racism, police brutality can be even more real and even more deadly than COVID-19. So, you know, and unlike, you know, COVID-19, racism and police brutality, that's something you can protest against. That's something that, you know, things can be put in place to change, unlike COVID-19, where you have to sort of wait until there's a vaccine or universal testing. So I feel like people feel like, you know, going out there is something that can have a tangible impact. But, you know, I also spoke to people who said, you know, that, you know, "It's either the police are going to kill me or COVID-19. So, you know, either way, I'm going to be out here." Or people were just so angry and so fed up that they said, you know, "Pandemic or no pandemic, I had to come out and, you know, show that my life matters."
Alex: This is maybe an oversimplified question, but how are you doing through all of this, both as a black person and a black journalist?
Quincy: You know, the longer that I survive this pandemic, the more I conquer my anxiety. And so I think also by last week, I think my anxiety was low enough to where I sort of felt OK to go out to this protest. But also, you know, knowing what's going on and how important it is, sort of, you know, my feeling of responsibility also took over.
Alex: Is what you're seeing out in the world right now giving you any sense that, OK, there is some solidarity. There is some sense of understanding. People are are starting to learn how to be better to one another. Is that something you've seen out there while you've been covering things?
Quincy: Yeah, I think I think just the turn out from the protests alone is something to say that, you know, maybe the tides will turn. I guess, you know, my job to sort of pull that time and contextualize the the time. And I guess I'll just keep doing that until I get a better answer.
Alex: Quincy, thank you for your time and for your work and for doing just that, for contextualizing and chronicling. This is an incredibly important moment I think not just for our city and our community, but obviously for the country, the world. And I think the work that you and and all of the journalists that WBUR and elsewhere are doing is incredibly important. So thank you for that.
I also just want to take this moment to say that for anybody who is watching this, WBUR is hosting a town hall this coming Thursday on race, justice and police practices in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. And this will be hosted by WBUR senior news correspondent, Kimberly Atkins. So you can register for that at wbur.org/events. You can find Quincy's coverage and all of WBUR's coverage at wbur.org. And you can listen to it at 90.9 F.M. Thank you, Quincy.
Quincy: Thank you. And farewell. Stay well.
Producer - Alex Schneps
Assistant Producer - Candice Springer
Technical Advisor - Niall Foley
Music and Audio Mixing - Adam Straus
Animation - Michael Diffin