Spring 2020

Sí, Yo Soy Afro: What it’s like to be Black in Argentina

By Sidnee King & Beth Stewart
Medill Reports

BUENOS AIRES — The myth that there are no Black people in Argentina is pervasive. Walking the streets of the nation’s cosmopolitan capital, Buenos Aires, you’ll likely find European influenced food, style, and architecture, all of it among mostly white faces.  Today, the city’s population is less than two percent black. But a once substantial community of African descendants has made an indelible imprint on even the most celebrated and exported aspects of Argentine culture.

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Medill Newsmakers: Reporting on-air amid COVID-19 (Ep. 2)

By Samone Blair, Michael Thomas, and Yilin Xie
Medill Reports

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the way many of us work.

Medill Reports spoke with three alumni of Northwestern University’s Medill School — Ashley Graham of WLNS-TV in Lansing, Michigan, Shiba Russel of 11Alive in Atlanta, and Peter Alexander of NBC News and the “Today” show — on how they’ve adapted to reporting during this unprecedented time.

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Medill Newsmakers: Reporting on-air amid COVID-19 (Ep. 1)

By Anika Exum, Briana Garrett and Jennifer Ly
Medill Reports

The spread of this year’s ongoing pandemic came with necessary but unexpected and unprecedented modifications to both the television news industry and the lives of those working in it.

Rick Sallinger of CBS4 Denver, Brandis Friedman of WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight,” and Medill School alumna Sheinelle Jones of NBC’s “Today” show shared with Medill Reports on how they’ve had to shift life and work amid COVID-19.

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“Trauma on trauma”: A pandemic and back-to-back natural disasters leave Puerto Ricans devastated

By Shreya Bansal
Medill Reports

Starting in late December, a series of earthquakes devastated southern Puerto Rico, forcing thousands to take shelter on the streets, in their cars and in government tents as their homes were destroyed. The situation left people on the island traumatized. At the time, many Puerto Ricans were still trying to recover from the shock of Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane in September 2017.

When Maria hit, the island was already in the midst of an economic crisis, drowned in $70 billion of public debt. On top of that, the long history of living as a U.S. colony has worsened the natural disasters’ psychological impact. One disaster after another, along with the lack of mental health facilities, has led people to depression, committing suicide or drugs, according to leaders from various non-profit organizations who stepped up to help Puerto Ricans in lieu of adequate government measures.

COVID-19 has only added to the trauma, as the elderly population with a high proportion of underlying health issues lives in fear of getting the virus while also dealing with the economic impacts of the pandemic. Virus precautions have also made  seeking both mental health care and community support networks more difficult and complicated.

“It’s trembling every day, every night.”

The largest earthquake that struck Puerto Rico’s southern coast on Jan. 7 registered as a 6.4 magnitude and was followed by a 5.6 magnitude aftershock a few hours after. According to the Puerto Rico Seismic Network, the island has not seen this level of seismic activity since 1918.

Health and Human Services secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico on Jan. 8 because of the quakes.

Earthquake shelters in Puerto Rico
Thousand of Puerto Ricans were stuck in government shelters even after earthquakes (Joel Jacobs/MEDILL)

“Having seen your home and knowing that you can’t physically go in there is very traumatizing. You’re physically, emotionally, and mentally tired, and it’s trembling every day, every night,” said Helga Maldonado, regional director of the nonprofit ESCAPE, an organization that stepped up to help affected areas after the earthquake.

Maldonado, along with members of her organization, went door to door to find out how they could help. Mental health services were the top necessity people reported, she said. ESCAPE, along with the Association of Puerto Rican Psychologists and other non-profit organizations, provides free psychological services to the survivors of natural disasters.

“It’s trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma,” said Maldonado. The lack of action from the government left people anxious and helpless, she said. “After all natural disasters, all the societal issues are exposed and it’s basically like you’re undressing the country.”

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What I’ve learned: Sarah Hay

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

At 32 years old, Sarah Hay has become an accomplished ballerina and actress. As a child, she danced at the prestigious School of American Ballet. She later trained at American Ballet Theatre, and at the age of 22, she joined the Semperoper Ballett in Germany. In 2010, she made her acting debut as one of the corps de ballet members in the movie, “Black Swan.” Six years later, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, Satellite Award and Critics’ Choice Television Award for her role as Claire Robbins in the Starz mini-series “Flesh and Bone.”

Today, Hay is still dancing, but not professionally. Rather she’s dancing for the joy and the happiness it gives her. She’s currently living in Los Angeles, where she’s also developing her own films and working on TV projects. Hay shares a few things she’s learned since her early years and start of her professional career.
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Amidst pandemic, rural New York teachers struggle to access high-speed internet

By Sidnee King and Emine Yücel
Medill Reports

On a snowy day in mid-March, Sandra Wilkins had a meltdown in the parking lot of the Saranac Lake Free Library. Bundled in hats and mittens and cramped in a grey 2009 Honda Accord, Wilkins and her two children were racing to finish the day’s work while they still had reliable internet access. It had been weeks of sitting in the parking lot for WiFi, and Wilkins became overwhelmed as she helped her son and daughter with their online classes, all while trying to support her own students.

“I remember thinking this is not a professional work environment, and not conducive to my children’s learning,” Wilkins said. “I’m just trying to do my job and be a mom at the same time.”

Weeks later, they’ve traded their winter coats for t-shirts and sunglasses. The family still sits outside of the library three times a week, wondering how long they can sustain working from their car. Wilkins said she never expected the pandemic would keep her out of the classroom for so long.

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Where are they now: Catching up with former Olympic figure skater Rachael Flatt

By Olivia Lee
Medill Reports

In early 2014, Olympic figure skater Rachael Flatt sat in her hotel lobby in Boston. She was surrounded by friends, family and former competitors, all scarfing down cannoli from one of Flatt’s favorite little hot spots in the city, Mike’s Pastry. With glasses of champagne raised, they toasted to Flatt, her final performance at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships and her retirement.

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Startups show resilience as the pandemic continues

By Ruiqi Chen
Medill Reports

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in late March, Matt Morfopoulos wasn’t too worried.

As co-founder and chief marketing officer of the Oklahoma text message communications startup Respond Flow, Morfopoulos knew that his business model would survive a socially-distant world because of its emphasis on remote marketing.

However, not every startup was expected to be so lucky.

Four out of 10 of startups had only enough cash on hand to sustain operations for three more months, according to research company Startup Genome’s April 21 global report on the impact of COVID-19 on the worldwide startup environment. This is up from less than three in 10 companies with only three months of runway in December.

Nearly two months after the report was released, it appears to be flat out wrong, said David Beazley, a managing partner with venture capital firm Purple Arch Ventures, which invests in startups within Northwestern University’s alumni network. He estimated that a maximum of a quarter of startups might actually be facing financial failure before the summer is over.

Startup Genome did not respond to a request for comment.

The startup and venture capital industries have taken many steps to ensure as many businesses as possible remain successful during the pandemic, Beazley said. This means focusing on startups that are capable of surviving in a post-COVID world where digital and touchless technologies will have an advantage.

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Women’s professional sports leagues utilize social media to continue pre-pandemic growth

By Leah Vann
Medill Reports

Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler stands against the blue backdrop of a team-themed blanket, staring into a camera to address nearly 1,000 fans sitting in front of their screens on the other end of a Zoom call on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

It’s the annual unveiling of the new team’s jerseys, called a, “Kit Launch,” and it was supposed to be the largest ever jersey unveiling event, where 250 fans would gather at Pinstripes on Chicago’s riverfront raising their signature cocktails to toast what should’ve been the start of the most exciting season of the National Women’s Soccer League yet. While the in-person event would’ve been more fun, the online version of it attracted more fans from across the country.

The room for growth in women’s sports exceeds men’s. Before the pandemic’s impact, Deloitte projected that the rise of women’s sports in 2020 would dominate the sports industry and that “sponsors should consider getting involved now to capitalize on the new opportunities and avenues for engagement that this growth area may create.”

On March 12, that dream of a record-breaking season came to a halt when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, making the NBA the first domino to fall in what was a chain of professional sports postponements and cancellations. The pandemic’s impact was especially disheartening for women’s professional sports, where teams were anxious to continue their pre-pandemic growth.

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Plastic panic in the pandemic: How single-use items meant to protect us will harm the planet

By Zack Fishman
Medill Reports

When a COVID-19 patient is hospitalized at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., they receive a lot of attention from healthcare workers. Whether it’s a nurse doing an hourly check-in or a team of doctors responding to a worsening condition, a medical professional enters a patient’s space about 50 to 80 times per day — and nearly every time, they have to wear a new set of personal protective equipment, or PPE. To prevent spread of the novel coronavirus, healthcare workers don disposable masks, gloves, gowns and other equipment from head to toe. When the visit is over, the equipment is thrown away.

GWU Hospital has had more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients come through its doors, according to Nicole Dollison, the COO of GWU Hospital, though fewer have been hospitalized after initial treatment. Yet the number of patients multiplied by the number of their visits equals a lot of required PPE. The hospital has cut down on the number of surgeries and emergency room services since the nation’s capital went into lockdown on April 1, yet it is consuming twice as many N95 masks as usual and three times as many plastic gowns and boot covers.

“Pretty much everything at least doubled, if not tripled, our normal usage,” Dollison says. The hospital has been producing more medical waste as a result, and Dollison expects it to grow even more as Washington begins its first phase of reopening and GWU Hospital restarts its other medical services.

Like many hospitals worldwide, GWU Hospital has been using more PPE to keep employees and patients safe from the highly infectious coronavirus. But nearly all of the safety equipment employed for this purpose — the N95 masks, the gowns, the gloves — are made of non-recyclable plastic, and they will eventually be thrown out. Where they go next is a crucial question for the environment’s well-being. Continue reading