Telling Stories

First came the email: Several of my colleagues at The New York Times went to a conference in New Orleans where someone had tested positive for the coronavirus.

It was the night of March 10. The specter of an invisible pathogen upending lives, families, friendships, and workplaces had not manifested itself—not yet. The probability of the virus spreading to every corner of America still seemed infinitesimal.

But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

That same night, a cleaning crew in hazmat suits fanned out in the newsroom, emptying trash bins as reporters and editors somewhat nonchalantly hustled to make deadline and tried to block out distractions, including this unsettling one.

That was my cue. Time to start working from home, I told myself as I gathered up my laptop and gear for my 12:25 a.m. train ride home to Connecticut, a nightly exercise in people watching and chit-chats with conductors.

As of June, I haven’t been back to Manhattan since, and probably won’t return until September at the earliest. Our newsroom, a nexus of gritty reporting, gifted storytellers, and energy, suddenly fragmented into more than 1,000 home newsrooms around the globe. Living rooms in Washington Heights. A journalism fellow’s home in Indiana. Flats in Rome and Hong Kong. A cottage in Nantucket. An editor’s desk in the Poconos.

We’re apart, but we’re together, and we have stories to tell, stories that are more important than ever.

Since I started working from home, I have been a regular contributor to the live briefing on the pandemic on the Times’ homepage, where millions of readers have flocked for dispatches about COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, the shortage of crucial supplies, and updates on the number of people who have lost their lives to the virus.

I have written stories about hucksters like the Tennessee man with 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and a Queens, New York, man who sold people stolen home test kits for the virus and never gave them their results.

I have written about the dying nursing home resident in Michigan who asked Alexa, the Amazon virtual assistant, for help. And then there was the Virginia bishop who succumbed to COVID-19 after defying warnings about the danger of religious gatherings.

We have not gone unscathed. A number of colleagues have gotten sick, and in March, Alan Finder, who spent nearly 30 years at The Times, died from the virus.

At a time of so much uncertainty, our shared purpose is as clear as ever. It’s one of keeping readers informed so they can make pragmatic decisions about the safety of themselves, loved ones, and friends. It’s one of telling the stories of those who don’t have a voice. It’s one of holding leaders accountable. And it’s one of getting the whole story, no matter how inconvenient or nuanced.

We always have taken our job home with us.

Neil Vigdor is a breaking news reporter for The New York Times, where he has written about the death of George Floyd, the Buffalo, N.Y., police officers charged with knocking an elderly protester down, impeachment, the disappearance of Jennifer Dulos, and the coronavirus pandemic. He previously covered politics for The Hartford Courant and Hearst Connecticut Media. He has interviewed Donald Trump, Michelle Obama, Mitt Romney, Jesse Jackson, Jeb Bush, and Rudy Giuliani, among many others.