By Brienne Westfall
Computer on, ready with Google Meets open. Ding, 9 a.m. on the dot, a group meeting opens on the computer screen and immediately begins. This is an editorial meeting with about 40 journalists and editors from the Guardian U.S. newspaper. The leading stories of the day are listed for each category from domestic to international. Talks of the evolving conflict in Ukraine and issues at the border of the United States and Mexico are at the top of the docket this morning. This is how almost every workday morning, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has started for domestic health reporter Jessica Glenza.
The Guardian is a large international news outlet. The U.S. side only has about 150 workers compared to the Guardian as a whole who has about 2,000 workers including reporters and editors. Glenza is one of the U.S. reporters. She has been working for the Guardian U.S. paper for eight years.
Glenza started as a breaking news reporter at the paper, and has now become the U.S. paper’s health reporter. She reports more on domestic health issues in the U.S. rather than health policy. She is a graduate of The State University of New York at Purchase College, where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts Degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish.
“Journalism is very all consuming when you first enter the industry … in order to move to a publication where your work is valued and you have a living wage, you really have to work your butt off, and more so as a woman,” said Glenza. When she was first out of college, she used to work 60-hour weeks in order to be competitive with other reporters and journalists, who were looking for the same occupational break. Glenza was a hyper local news reporter out of school for a year before she moved on to work for a small newspaper in Connecticut. At this paper, she worked on crime reporting and education as her two beats because it was such a small paper.
“There’s a lot of different ways to do journalism,” said Glenza. There are many paths within the journalism field whether it’s being a reporter an editor or a foreign correspondent as well as other jobs. She said that getting into what you are interested in, and working at that, is how you move up and on in the field. “Break stories and then people will want you to be a reporter for them, and that’s what it boils down to,” said Glenza.
Paying attention to small details is how she has found many of her stories. “These stories often start as things that people ignore, and you unravel them as a journalist and they tell you something much broader about what’s going on,” said Glenza.
Her interest in the health reporting beat came from her practice of reading peer-reviewed research. “It was one of the few instances where we would have an apolitical answer to questions,” said Glenza.
She liked this more objective concept and started reporting on more stories around these topics. This reporting would gain her a spot on a special project, investigating transnational tobacco companies. She said she had to “find a new way to talk about an old monster.” Her work on this topic would gain her the position of health reporter just about a year before the start of the pandemic. “This was a trial by fire,” said Glenza.
Mid-March of 2020 was the changing point. “We went online because of COVID, because we had a two-day work experiment in 2020 when things looked like it might not be so great and we haven’t gone back to the office yet,” said Glenza.
Domestic health issues have risen significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic according to Glenza. “My work load doubled or tripled at the height of the pandemic, and during surges,” said Glenza.
The plans and details of returning to office work are being worked on right now. With excitement of returning back to a pre-2020 work-life, Glenza has been told from the U.S. group that they are planning to return to the office this upcoming May 11.
Before COVID-19 Glenza would get up to start her day by leaving for the office, reading the news on her commute as well as listening to podcasts to orient herself for the day. The normal editor meeting would be at 9 a.m. like it is now, but it would be in-person in the conference room. After this she would move onto her work for the day, which would normally include a few stories at a time with different deadlines.
Her days included interviews, scheduling and writing. “If it’s an interview day, I might do three or four interviews a day and then that’s it, that’s all I can do. It’s exhausting,” said Glenza.
“Before COVID a large portion of my work was things that I pitched and stories that I wanted to write, and that was just flipped on its head because the news demands were so extreme,” said Glenza.
“80 – 90 percent of the news I was writing were things we just needed to get out the door to just be relevant,” said Glenza. She was no longer pitching most of her own stories; they were being given to her.
“1,200 words, today, you have four hours.” These are the words Glenza was told daily at the beginning of the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, she was writing at least 6,000 words a week for the paper to keep up with health story demands. “I was doing a 1,200-word news story every day for a year at least,” said Glenza.
Because of the high volume of stories needing to be covered, freelance journalists aided her in writing stories that she isn’t able to get to. “I can’t do it alone; It’s too much for me to cover alone,” said Glenza. The freelance help didn’t come till a year into the pandemic because of the budgets. She was doing all this work herself.
Glenza is strict with the hours that she works weekly. She sticks to no more than 45 hours weekly, working nine to five most days with usually one day working a little extra. “You have to guard against things like burnout and stress and fatigue, because you are working on such tragic overwhelming stories…You are still a human being you have to rest,” said Glenza.
The daily editors meeting revealed that international issues are at the headlines of news right now, but the topics Glenza works on daily are up there with them. “Even though Ukraine is the biggest news story of the day, my job is still to work on COVID and abortion, to a large extent; which is going to be the largest most important politics story perhaps of the whole year,” said Glenza.
“The story I thought was most important story that we wrote during the pandemic was the story of Josefina Brito-Fernandez,” said Glenza. This story was originally only reported on by the Guardian U.S. and it details the only U.S. health worker charged as a criminal for giving others COVID-19. “This was a remarkable story,” said Glenza.
This story sticks with Glenza. “It shows how people who are so marginalized in society are also the most victimized when something cataclysmic happens,” said Glenza. The stories she’s written and worked on that she appreciated most, are stories where individuals have an impact on larger controversial topics in society. “Those stories go to the heart of the struggles we have in society,” said Glenza.
Glenza is the newsroom expert on to topic of abortion at the Guardian U.S. paper, and is busy with COVID-19 stories. Her work went from a wide number of topics to mostly COVID-19 and abortion news because they have become such important and relevant news stories domestically.
“A lot of my job has been breaking down the complex stories that happened during the pandemic, and helping people understand,” said Glenza. She is able to do this because of all her experience in her health reporting beat, and she says she would not have been able to do this when she first started as a breaking news reporter because of the lack of knowledge and experience. “It’s just easier to write a story when you’ve done it 50,000 times,” said Glenza.
These are what her days as a reporter for the Guardian U.S. involve. “It’s a job that keeps you on your toes. It’s very demanding,” said Glenza.
Health reporting is not where she plans to stop her career. “I think working in inequality would be very interesting because of covering topics like welfare and social safety net,” said Glenza. Another job she said she would be interested in was being State House correspondent for another paper. Her experiences with going to the United Nations a few times has also sparked her interest into thinking about international development and diplomatic reporting. “It sorta depends on what comes my way,” said Glenza.
“It’s one of the few jobs you get to pick the side that you want to advocate for… it’s a rare privilege to be able to do something like that,” said Glenza. She wants to, and plans to stick with journalism the rest of her working life.