Watchdog Q&A

Published — May 22, 2020

Q&A: Will Carless on how big grocery chains were partly to blame for their workers’ deaths

Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, a worker restocks products at a grocery store in Dallas, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Introduction

We’re continuing our series featuring journalists who have written powerful stories. This week, we spoke to Reveal’s Will Carless about his story on how grocery store workers have died from COVID-19 —  and why their employers are partly to blame. Carless and his reporting partner Patrick Michels used social media to reach out to grocery store employees across the country, and hundreds responded. The investigation found that big chains were slow to put measures into place that could’ve protected their front-line employees.

How did you find this story?

We knew from personal experience that grocery workers were facing struggles at work. Whenever I went to pick up groceries, I would talk to the clerks and employees at the store and I knew they were upset about the lack of personal protective equipment and the risks to their health. But once we put out a call on social media for feedback and anecdotes from workers, the stories started pouring in. 

What were the challenges of reporting this story and how did you navigate them? 

One major challenge was the sheer volume of responses. They just kept flooding in, so we had to keep them well organized in a spreadsheet and keep on top of them. It helped us to recognize trends early on — like employees complaining about a lack of PPE. We began to tally these trends early so that we had plenty of examples to draw from. We also had to be vigilant about keeping up with grocery chains’ constantly changing/updating policies, which could change from day to day. A major challenge was ensuring that this evolution in response by the companies was fairly represented in the piece.

We also faced a lack of response from most of the companies, so we had to continually search for new policies as they sprung up, as well as reaching out to our database of employees to confirm/deny rumors and news about new policies as they arose.  

Takeaway: Social media should be a part of any reporter’s toolkit.

Read more in Inside Public Integrity

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