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Monday, October 26, 2020

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The Laura Flanders Show to air Sullivan County segment on PBS stations

Sep 24, 2020

By Isabel Braverman - staff writer

By: Contributed photo by Sabrina Artel
Television and radio host Laura Flanders interviews Public Health Director Nancy McGraw for a special segment on the impacts of COVID-19 in Sullivan County.
When Laura Flanders began her independent television and radio show in 2004, she wanted to tell stories that were forward thinking and not being told on other media platforms.
Having owned a home in Smallwood since the 1980's and being a part-time resident, Flanders and her partner moved here fulltime at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I came up to Sullivan County like so many people from the city did looking for respite from the Manhattan nightmare,” she said. “And after having been there for a few weeks realized it's not like Sullivan County is free of coronavirus, it's just got a very different profile here.”
When Public Health Director Nancy McGraw announced in May that the towns of Fallsburg and Liberty had high cases of the virus, particularly among the Latino population, Flanders wanted to explore that subject.
Working with local journalist Sabrina Artel, whose show “Trailer Talk” runs on WJFF, they co-produced a segment called “COVID in the Country” that tackles the issue of immigrant farmworkers being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

That segment will now be aired across the country on PBS stations and premiers on PBS World. The Laura Flanders Show debuted on PBS stations this September and will run every week on Sundays.
“The story that we wanted to tell on the show was not just the crisis and the different profile that the COVID epidemic had in a rural area, but also the response of that community,” Flanders remarked.
She and Artel reached out to community members and the show features New York State (NYS) Sen. Jen Metzger, NYS Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, activist Sandra Oxford and more.
While many interviews were conducted via Zoom because of the pandemic, Flanders and Artel were pleased to be able to do some socially-distanced reporting in the field, such as covering the Farmworkers Caravan that was held in Liberty at the end of May.
It was there that they spoke with Juanita Sarmiento, Youth Economic Group Coordinator for Rural & Migrant Ministry.
At the height of the pandemic, Sarmiento worked with farm and factory workers, handing out masks and offering assistance in both English and Spanish.
“During all of this, the reason we're fighting for these workers' rights is because those jobs started out 400 years ago during slave labor times and very minimal change has happened since then. A lot of the work we're doing is to change the methods of the past,” Sarmiento said.
Through their reporting, Flanders and Artel discovered that COVID-19 highlighted some of the poor conditions in the county.
“The pandemic exacerbated the pre-existing conditions that were already here with health, inequality and vulnerabilities,” Artel said.
As we all know by now, the county's numbers are remaining low, and they were declining since mid-May.
“I thought it was an important story to tell not just because I was living there and it was fascinating, but because of the lessons it had to teach nationally about both the particular face of the epidemic in a rural area and the vitality of the response,” Flanders said.
When the segment came out, Flanders said they received a positive response and it was shared with labor groups as a model for advocacy work.
“I had a lot of people saying that we really shined a light on what's happening here in Sullivan County,” Sarmiento said.
Now it will be shown to a national audience, and Flanders and Artel are proud to share stories from a rural area, which largely gets ignored in place of larger areas and cities.
“It's the local media that has the roots, the understanding and the relationships, and the national media can often bring increased visibility to some of that,” Flanders said.
The “COVID in the Country” segment will air on PBS World on Sunday, October 4 at 11:30 a.m.

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