March 26, 2020 1:23 PM ET
Stefania Battistini, an experienced reporter for Italian public broadcaster RAI, has covered terrorist attacks, earthquakes, and Syria’s civil war for the channel’s news program. Now, she is confronting the biggest challenge of her career: the coronavirus pandemic that is ravaging Lombardy, northern Italy, one of the hardest-hit regions in the world. Battistini, who is based in Milan, the region’s capital, spoke with CPJ on March 23, 2020, about her experiences covering the pandemic.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How has your everyday work changed since the crisis started?
First of all, everything changed from an organization point of view. Our company, RAI, asked reporters who work in the “frontline” to commit themselves fully to covering the crisis, so I exclusively work now on this topic. Our crew members do not change, we stick together and we were asked not to return to our headquarters because we are the ones who are most at risk to be infected so the guideline is that if we return, we will have to put ourselves in a 14-day quarantine first to prevent eventually others being infected. I have continuously worked for the last 23 days, non-stop–today [March 23] is actually my first day off.
How have you first confronted the crisis? How were your first experiences?
One of our first assignments was to cover how hospitals are overwhelmed with the great number of patients. When we arrived in Pesaro, where there was a local outbreak, there were around 10 people from the hospital staff waiting for our crew to arrive, they wanted us so much to show how dramatic the situation is in the hospital. I practically did not even have time to ask questions, they were immediately taking us, some of them crying, with tears in their eyes, right to the intensive care unit where everyone was covered from head to toe in protective clothes dealing with patients, some of them dying of the virus.