As the Covid-19 crisis continues, new developments seem to emerge every hour, if not every minute. We caught up with alumna Elisha Ortiz (Fieldstadt) (’14), a breaking news reporter at NBC, who discussed the challenges of covering a global pandemic, how she sees the story evolving, and the ways that she honed her craft as editor-in-chief of Dollars & Sense, Baruch’s student magazine.
As a breaking news reporter – in a period of nonstop breaking news – what has been the most difficult aspects of covering Covid-19?
Mental health professionals are suggesting left and right to step away from the news right now. They say to carve out a half hour or hour of the day to get informed, and then focus on other things to avoid anxiety and depression. Reporters don’t have that option. Eight hours a day, five days a week, I am covering only coronavirus news from a Manhattan one-bedroom with my husband, who also writes and reports for NBCNews.com. We are all-consumed by mostly negative news related to a pandemic that we are also navigating ourselves while living in the American city hardest hit by it. That being said, we are fortunate to have each other, and to still have jobs that we can do from the safety of our home.
What type of stories have you in particular been looking to cover during this extraordinary time?
As a breaking news reporter, I cover whatever is happening on a particular day in a particular minute. This has become even more true as NBCNews.com reporters work to provide real-time updates through our live blog, which every reporter, regardless of beat or team, has been contributing to. For me, this has meant covering a lot of press conferences from mayors and governors and reporting on what is most important for a national audience to know, even if they don’t necessarily live in that city or state.
How have recent guidelines on social distancing affected your ability to work on your reporting?
Normally, when I am at 30 Rock, I report from my desk by making calls and sending emails, so that hasn’t been so different. The biggest challenge has been reporting in the same small space with someone else, while we might simultaneously be listening to a press conference or on a conference call or conducting a phone interview.
What do you anticipate being some of the major stories to cover in the next few weeks as this progresses?
As New York begins to come out of the peak of this a little, the wave will be hitting other large cities, along with suburbs and possibly even rural areas. New York officials have talked about this extensively and hope New York can provide some lessons as that happens, through mistakes and wins. We also have a presidential election in November, probably. That is what would be dominating at least 70 percent of the news cycle right now if we weren’t in the midst of this worldwide crisis. It will be so interesting to see how the race and coverage of the race is affected and if any precedents are completely broken as a pandemic and an already unique election collide.
How have you remained part of the Baruch community since your graduation and what makes you want to stay engaged with your alma mater?
Baruch is the reason I have the journalism career I have. I was the editor-in-chief of Dollars & Sense, the college’s online magazine, during my time there. The then-advisor of the magazine, who is the chair of the journalism department, Josh Mills, became a mentor and helped me secure my first internship. So I love giving back to Baruch in small ways. I’ve kept connections from my time at Baruch, and through my career, met other Baruch grads and professors, and have found we all readily connect and rally to assist current students who are interested in journalism. I also speak in one of Heather Schultz’s communications classes about once a semester, which is especially gratifying because I get to tell them all about where a Baruch degree can take you.