We had some great local journalism related to the coronavirus in the past 10 days or so, and I want to give a shoutout to a few of the reporters’ work and point you to some key stories, just in case you missed them.
You’ll notice we occasionally label stories as TH exclusives. That’s an indication that a reporter was digging hard to get more information and was able to uncover the kind of story you’re not going to find anywhere else.
Reporter Benjamin Fisher looked into nursing home complaints filed with the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and reviewed the documents related to an investigation of Dubuque Specialty Care. The documents revealed that in some cases, employees had been told to work even when they had symptoms of COVID-19. His story also was able to relay that other than those violations at Dubuque Specialty Care, no other long-term-care facility in Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque or Jackson counties had any COVID-19-related citations from the state. I know that put some readers’ minds at ease and dispensed with rumors flying around.
Next, Bennet Goldstein combed through all the Dubuque County death certificates this year and found all 22 local deaths attributed to COVID-19. He was able to use the information on the documents to provide a clearer picture in aggregate of the background of those who died. Most were older adults, and most had underlying health conditions. I particularly liked this paragraph Bennet wrote: “The factors associated with Dubuque County’s COVID-19 deaths do not convey the decedents’ life stories, nor their intrinsic value to their communities and loved ones. But examining demographic factors can shed light on who is being impacted by the disease and who might be at risk for complications.”
That sums up community journalism, I think. We’re trying to get information out to the public for the greater good. But we also know that these are real people in our communities, with full lives and loved ones, and we hope we can tell those stories as well.
On Sunday, senior reporter Tom Barton teamed up with Fisher to track federal and state COVID-19 relief funding coming into the county. Here’s the thing: The government does not make it easy to track the money. And that’s too bad. This, after all, is taxpayer money, and citizens have a right to know that it’s not being misused — particularly when you read stories like the one last week that showed $1.4 billion in relief checks were sent to deceased people (slaps forehead).
The TH’s investigation included filing nearly a dozen Freedom of Information Act requests with federal agencies; compiling records from state, municipal and local public health agencies, hospitals and school districts; and interviewing about two dozen state and local government officials, business leaders and public health officials.
The TH was able to document more than $200 million in state and federal COVID-relief funding dispersed to businesses, local governments, nonprofits, school districts, hospitals and other organizations and institutions in Dubuque County as of June 9.
It’s fair to say that no other media around here does that kind of digging. I’m proud of our local news team, led by Managing Editor Dustin Kass, for doing the hard work of community journalism and keeping our readers informed.
Meanwhile, in the sports department ... at long last, baseball and softball are back, and no one is happier than the TH sportswriters.
It’s worth noting the body of work the sports crew managed to assemble during the 95-day stretch in which no local high school sports were played. During that time, our sports staff of four produced 324 local sports stories, (3.4 local stories per day), including 57 all-local sports front pages, while also helping out in other areas of the newsroom. This week’s scholar-athletes presentation presents another opportunity to showcase our deep knowledge of our local prep athletes. I have to say it again — no one else provides this kind of local coverage. For the sake of young athletes, and the four guys across the newsroom, here’s hoping high school sports can continue.
I’m proud of the work our team has done in these trying times.
Heck, reporter Allie Hinga even went through the COVID-19 testing process just so she could explain it to readers. It was the most-read story on our website that day. (And she tested negative — whew!)
We appreciate the reader suggestions and support we’ve received these last months, and we’ll keep on delivering.