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Covering COVID-19: W&M alumni reporting from front lines of pandemic

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    Reporting on the front lines:  This week’s Community Conversation focused on journalism in the time of COVID-19. President Katherine A. Rowe spoke with Weijia Jiang '05, who works for CBS News as the network’s White House correspondent, and David Culver ‘09, an international correspondent for CNN based at the network's Beijing bureau.  Screen shot
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Weijia Jiang remembers stepping on to William & Mary’s campus for the first time and thinking “this is just what college is supposed to be.”

Jiang, a graduate from William & Mary’s Class of 2005, now works for CBS News as the network’s White House correspondent. She credits the university for nurturing a sense of curiosity that still drives her work today. 

“I am forever grateful for that intensity and openness to allowing us to explore and to satisfy our curiosity,” she said. “That curiosity helps you carve out your entire career, whatever field you choose.” 

Jiang recently joined her colleague David Culver ‘09, an international correspondent for CNN based at the network's Beijing bureau, for a special installment of President Katherine A. Rowe’s Community Conversation series, which is being streamed online weekly through May 13.

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This week’s conversation focused on journalism in the time of COVID-19. The conversation was pre-recorded because of the time difference between the U.S. and China, where Culver is based.

“This is a moment when we're appreciating the value of every pillar of American democracy,” Rowe told the two correspondents. “At William & Mary, we have a long tradition of educating journalists that goes back more than 200 years. It's particularly thrilling to know that our alumni continue to be prominent leaders in the fourth estate.”

Today, Jiang and Culver work for national news outlets, reporting on and within the front line of the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, Rowe reminded viewers, they both cut their teeth at the student-run television station WMTV.

“My major in philosophy offered the most solid background I can think of for a journalist,” Jiang said. “That was critical thinking skills and understanding an argument, the need to explore both sides of an argument. …I think back to my classes and how hard they were, how our professors challenged us, and I still use them.” 

Culver said that during his time at William & Mary, his professors played an important role in influencing his future career. 

“At that point,” he said. “They made me want to live up to the standards that they were setting.”

Both journalists said they feel a great sense of responsibility right now to provide the public with up-to-date, accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are desperate for the best, the newest, the clearest information about the virus, and in particular, what the federal government is doing to control it, to mitigate it, and to help people just make it through the day,” Jiang said. “So it's up to us to deliver that information.”

Rowe said that accurate information is vital to our wellbeing, adding that, as humans, we are hardwired to dislike uncertainty.

“We will go to almost any lengths to eliminate it from our lives,” she said. “I will say that the coverage that you are both and your colleagues are pursuing for us is one of the key ways in which we are diminishing uncertainties. We're really grateful for that.”