Local Journalist Heroes: James David Dickson
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: James David Dickson
Outlet: The Detroit News
City: Detroit, MI
What do you consider to be the biggest threat to a free and vibrant press in the midst of this crisis?
The government. Particularly, government officials offering press briefings without taking questions.
How have the advent of the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing requirements changed your reporting and the way your newsroom operates more broadly?
We write only what we know. But everybody has had to tailor their normal interests—sports, criminal justice, entertainment—into how the coronavirus affects those interests.
“Every local reporter in America has stepped up to this unwanted challenge, and many have been rewarded with furloughs for it.”
As many newsrooms turn the bulk of their focus to COVID-19, they will lose the capacity to do much of the vital watchdog, accountability, and solutions journalism they normally do. What is one story you fear will be eclipsed by this shift? Are there any stories you’ve been working on that you’ve had to shelve?
What will be eclipsed by the virus is directly related to the virus, and that’s the erosion of civil liberties and government responsiveness. Already, there has been talk of loosening FOIA requirements in Michigan. And a statewide lockdown is problematic on many levels. Reporters must be asking these questions.
Who else is doing excellent coverage?
Every local reporter in America has stepped up to this unwanted challenge, and many have been rewarded with furloughs for it.
About James David Dickson
James David Dickson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter for The Detroit News, reporting on breaking news and the justice system in Detroit.
Examples of Coverage
- Metro Detroit jails quarantine newcomers, give protective gear to staff
- Michigan speeds parole reviews but few inmates qualify
- In Michigan, deaths were down in March, but ‘it doesn’t feel that way’
- Twitter campaign encourages Whitmer to #LetMiPeopleGo from Michigan prisons
- Tribal casino lays off almost 1,500 at 3 Michigan locations during virus crisis