Local Journalist Heroes: Jeff Goertzen
This Q&A is part of Local Heroes: Journalists Covering COVID-19, PEN America’s series spotlighting local journalists across the country in celebration of World Press Freedom Day 2020, elevating the importance of a free, vibrant, and inclusive press.
Name: Jeff Goertzen
Outlet: Southern California News Group
City: Los Angeles, CA
What do you want your readers to know about what goes into the coverage they’re relying on?
The daily tracker is a compilation of more than 1,000 pieces of data from more than 70 websites. While it is being published in the Bay Area News Group and Southern California News Group newspapers, it is compiled and designed by one person in a tremendously small amount of space in very little time each day. One wrong number or one misplaced decimal point can change the story dramatically. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure because of the quantity of information I’m working with—and I have to get the information right.
“I am concerned about the survival of a free and vibrant press if our advertising revenues continue to decline in this crisis. As advertising suffers, so do our revenues. And that has always translated into staff cuts.”
What personal risks have you or your colleagues faced while covering COVID-19?
I’m working remotely at home and fortunately don’t have to go outside. But, my emotional health is probably what is most at risk. I get dozens of emails each day from readers who express to me how this tracker page is the first page they go to each day. Many of them save all the pages and crunch and compare numbers looking for answers and hope. For many, this page has become their bible. It’s a lot of pressure, and I have not had a day off in five weeks.
What do you consider to be the biggest threats to a free and vibrant press in the midst of this crisis?
I am concerned about the survival of a free and vibrant press if our advertising revenues continue to decline in this crisis. As advertising suffers, so do our revenues. And that has always translated into staff cuts.
“It’s a tremendous amount of pressure because of the quantity of information I’m working with. And I have to get the information right.”
There is rampant disinformation and misinformation about COVID-19 circulating in our local and national media outlets. How has your newsroom responded to disinformation? In what ways have you had to directly combat disinformation in your reporting? What are the biggest misperceptions you have had to counter?
Each day I produce the tracker, I have to make sure the numbers are not deceiving or distort the truth. Numbers, no matter how accurate they are, can paint a false picture of reality. For instance: 12,000 cases in Los Angeles County can look catastrophic compared to 23 cases in Mono County, but 10,000 cases per 100,000 people in LA County is 122.9 per 100,000, while 23 cases in Mono County is actually higher per capita at 159.2 per 100,000.
What books, poems, podcasts, or other creative media have you been turning to for comfort or inspiration?
Matthew 6:34—“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I don’t worry about the future or what will happen because God has brought me and my family through so much already. This pandemic has actually been a blessing for my family because we are at home together and have been getting through this together.
Who else is providing excellent coverage?
I want to give a huge shout out to my colleague Kurt Snibbe. He has been working extremely hard. He turns out two full-page graphics a week and together we both do about 600 graphics for all of Southern California News Group. Working with great colleagues and building off of each others’ strengths is important to building a great newsroom. And that fosters good journalism.
About Jeff Goertzen
Jeff is the art director for the Southern California News Group. He started his career in graphics as an intern for The Orange County Register in 1986. Since then, he has worked for more than 80 news publications around worldwide as a consultant in graphics and design. He has worked as the art director for El Mundo in Madrid, El Periodico in Barcelona; O Estado de Sao Paulo in Brazil, The Denver Post, USA TODAY, and The Orange County Register. He has won more than 20 international awards in graphics and design for the Society for News Design and Malofiej, the Society for News Design Spain’s annual awards in informational graphics.