When COVID-19 hit North Carolina in mid-March, Carolina Public Press joined forces with several media outlets across North Carolina. This group of journalists, now called the NC Watchdog Reporting Network (NCWRN), made a decision to work together to hold leaders accountable and find any missing pieces in the state’s reporting of the pandemic.
In the beginning, the NCWRN set off to answer a number of questions about subjects related to COVID-19 in North Carolina including testing, hospital capacity, nursing homes, prisons, meatpacking plants and the outlook for fall elections.
In the months that have followed, the group has filed joint legal action to push for access to essential public information. That resulted in the release of data about nursing home outbreaks, which would not have been released without our work. Many of these stories involved seeking records from local health officials, nursing homes or hospitals in every part of the state and would have been nearly impossible to tackle in a timely manner without the formation of this collaboration.
The NC Watchdog Reporting Network (NCWRN) has produced 30 stories so far, most of which are focused on COVID-19 coverage. In early August, the NCWRN uncovered that North Carolina state health officials chose to cooperate with meatpacking plants over transparency about COVID-19 outbreaks. In the report, the NCWRN told the story of Marisela Martinez, a contracted housekeeper at Mountaire Farms poultry in Siler City, a small town in predominantly rural Chatham County, NC, and how the lack of her employer’s transparency affected her and her family.