Protests against systemic racism swept across the country this summer, including Philly’s suburbs. These demonstrations weren’t as large as those in cities, but they still made some noise in these majority-white areas. My colleague Erin McCarthy looks at whether these protests could make lasting change in suburbia.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with videojournalists Astrid Rodrigues and Raishad Hardnett about their work and their coverage of Tropical Storm Isaias' aftermath in Eastwick.
Why did you decide to work in video? How is your job different from a typical reporter’s?
Rodrigues: My background before coming to The Inquirer was in broadcast journalism. I didn’t study journalism in college but I had been interested in working behind the scenes in television and ended up working on the production team of a TV newsmagazine program. I really fell in love with news and documentary storytelling. One big difference from a typical reporter is video editing. We conduct interviews just like reporters, but, of course, they’re filmed. Once I finish interviews and any other filming on a project, I write a script and edit the footage. It’s technical work but also very creative because it’s where it all comes together — sound bites, b-roll, music, and voice-over.
Hardnett: Video is such a powerful medium, and it can communicate emotion and experience in a visceral way. It’s also a format that requires much of the same processes as print journalism: research, reporting, interviewing, writing, editing. One difference, I would say, is the amount of time we have to spend in person with our sources to film them and the amount of trust that takes.
When was the first time you had heard about the Eastwick neighborhood’s contaminated soil? How did you find out about it?
Rodrigues: I first heard about Eastwick the day Tropical Storm Isaias came through the Philadelphia area on Aug. 4. One of our Inquirer photographers, Elizabeth Robertson, was out covering the storm around the city. The flooding in Eastwick looked especially bad in photos. People were wading through high waters in the street and some had been rescued by boat from their homes. That same day, Frank Kummer, The Inquirer’s environment reporter, shared his prior reporting, which shows that Eastwick is not only in a flood zone, but also has properties that were built on a former landfill. I had no idea, but I knew that I wanted to speak to residents and see what it looked like to clean up after flooding. The next day, I went to the neighborhood and a homeowner told me he didn’t find out his home was built on toxic soil until after he bought the property.
Hardnett: Astrid very much led the initiative for this video and brought the idea to me the day after the storm swept through. We decided I would interview the Red Cross, while she focused on getting neighborhood reaction.
Can you describe what the community is facing after floods caused by Tropical Storm Isaias? What is it like to report on it?
Rodrigues: The residents I’ve talked to have lots of concerns. They’ll never be able to recover some things lost in the flooding, like photos, but they worry about how they’ll pay to repair their homes and whether the mold left behind is dangerous to their health. There are people who want to know what the city is doing to prevent future flooding. Longtime residents have seen floods come through before, and they say the city has been studying the area for decades but flooding is still a problem. They want to know if they’ll be safe during the next big storm. As for the contaminated soil, the EPA has been working for years to clean up the neighborhood, and the work is still in progress. Some chemicals in the soil can cause cancer or other health risks so it’s urgent work.
Hardnett: Eastwick was definitely one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods by the flood, and seeing the footage from the day of the storm was surreal. More than 350 people stayed in Red Cross shelters, and a lot of them are still in need of long-term recovery. It’s a neighborhood that doesn’t tend to get as much attention as other parts of the city, so reporting on Tropical Storm Isaias' impact there felt like an important responsibility to take on.
How is the community responding to the problem? Are you planning to keep following what’s happening?
Rodrigues: Eastwick is still cleaning up after flooding that happened a month ago. Residents have been meeting to try to get answers from local officials. It’s a community that has been fighting for justice for a long time, dating back to the ’80s and ’90s when residents fought to get their soil cleaned up. Today’s fight is another chapter of environmental justice. The causes of flooding are multifaceted and likely further impacted by climate change. I want to know what the future could look like for this community, and intend to follow what’s happening to learn more.
What is one thing you wish more people better understood about your job?
Rodrigues: I wish people knew the amount of research and background information that goes into our work. I’m always striving to produce pieces that are informative and factual. That means the editing has to be responsible as well. My job is fun and rewarding, but it’s also hard work.
Hardnett: I think when a lot of people think of videojournalists, they think of broadcast reporters with tight turnarounds and short, faced-paced news clips. As video producers for The Inquirer, we approach storytelling differently. We are journalists and filmmakers — but I think more than anything, we are conduits for people to elevate their stories with their own voices. I’m really proud of our work here because when we sit down with our sources, we’re not just soliciting sound bites — we’re giving folks space to share their authentic truths with us, and taking the time to present those truths in the most thoughtful and sincere way possible.
I love the light and lines in this shot. Thanks for sharing, @nickjmalf.
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Flu season is unpredictable in any year, but this year has a new complication: the coronavirus. Both the flu and COVID-19 can be characterized by fever, aches, and shortness of breath. That makes distinguishing between them a little confusing. One big difference is the sudden loss of smell that COVID-19 patients can experience. If you’re unsure what your symptoms mean, it’s best to talk to a doctor about it. But we also have a chart that might help you tell the difference in the meantime.
“Fantastic story of an example of Victorian opulence. This place should be restored and converted into either condos or a government office.” — fillyfanatik, on Gated off and guarded by dogs, Lynnewood Hall is still a mystery. Except to YouTube.