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Your Voice Ohio is a collaborative effort to produce more relevant, powerful journalism based on the needs and ambitions of Ohioans and Ohio communities. Your Voice Ohio is an initiative of WYSO and more than 30 news organizations across Ohio.

In Online Forums Across The State, Ohioans Say They Want More Unified Response To The Pandemic

In collaboration with Your Voice Ohio, journalists from news outlets across the state are participating in video roundtables with Ohioans to discuss issues important to them ahead of the November election. WYSO has partnered with Your Voice Ohio on special projects since 2017.

WYSO’s Leila Goldstein spoke with Mahoning Matters reporter Justin Dennis, the lead reporter on this round of conversations which focused on COVID-19. Dennis has worked as a reporter for close to 10 years and previously covered Mahoning County for The Vindicator. He said one opinion he heard from Ohioans was a desire for a more unified, national response to the pandemic.

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Justin Dennis: No doubt one recurring theme was that people thought there was no real direction, no real path, no real consistent messaging from the federal government on down to the states. People felt that the response across the country has widely been just a patchwork that doesn't really work well together. What I based the piece on was this idea of the uncertainty that these people are feeling and how that affects each aspect of their lives.

Leila Goldstein: Several people in our group brought up that they had family members who had lost their jobs, business owners [were] figuring out whether their business is still viable. What were people saying about the economic impact as this continues to drag on?

Dennis: In almost every group or it might have been in every group, at least someone knew someone who had lost a job. There was one woman who lives in the Cleveland area and she works for a local school. She had been unemployed since March when the schools closed and had been waiting on unemployment benefits since May. This really showed how vulnerable some people can be when something shocking to the system happens like this. The social safety net can't keep up or is not working as intended when there's suddenly a huge demand.

Goldstein: Part of this project is giving people an opportunity to have conversations with local journalists like us. What did people have to say about how the media is covering the coronavirus pandemic?

Dennis: They didn't have a lot of good things to say, to be honest. Many people felt that the media was trying to stoke division. A lot of people in these groups felt like there are really no sides to this story, there's no two sides. There's the health side, the side of public safety and the side of public health and that's really [what] anyone should be considering. They don't feel that there's any room for partisan debate about this pandemic. They felt that the media was seizing on a lot of things that will get people talking and will get people arguing. A lot of people have said that they've started to tune out or talked about the specific news sources that they try to keep up with and just ignore pretty much everything else.

Goldstein: Was there anything that surprised you from these conversations?

Dennis: I was surprised at how agreeable people were and how civil people were. When you ask a reporter to talk to a bunch of people who are complete strangers from different parts of the state, probably have different backgrounds, and we're going to talk about one of the most hotly debated topics of 2020 for two hours. I was like, oh boy. I thought it was going to be like what we see on our website's social media accounts, which is a lot of arguing [that] devolves into personal attacking.

We didn't see any of that. I really think that people wanted to talk this through. This is something that few people on Earth have experienced, at least just the scope of it. It was great to bring everyone together to talk about coping, to grieve, to explain what they're going through. I think a lot of people, hopefully, felt a little better at the end of it.

You can read the story Justin Dennis produced for Your Voice Ohio here.

Want to volunteer for a future dialogue and receive $125 for two hours? Register here at the Your Voice Ohio Election 2020 website.

About Your Voice Ohio: This is one in a series of stories on issues Ohioans say are most important in this election year. More than 50 news outlets are collaborating in the project under the umbrella of Your Voice Ohio, the nation’s largest sustained, statewide news media collaborative. In five years, Your Voice Ohio has brought more than 100 journalists together with more than 1,300 Ohioans for discussions on addiction, the economy and elections. The project is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and Facebook. The Jefferson Center for New Democratic Processes designs and facilitates the dialogues. Retired Akron Beacon Journal managing editor Doug Oplinger directs the media work and can be reached at doplinger@yourvoiceohio.org.