Opinion

Audio Astra: COVID insecurity in many different forms

September 11, 2021 3:33 am

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services employee holds a COVID-19 vaccine record card Nov. 13, 2020, at Operation Warp Speed headquarters in Washington, D.C. (EJ Hersom/U.S. Department of Defense)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

COVID-19 has become so ingrained in our news coverage that I didn’t realize essentially all of the stories in this week’s Audio Astra are indeed about … you guessed it, COVID. And the news isn’t reassuring, as you already know.

Renters, advocates on Kansas housing issues

Kansas Reflector, Sept. 6, 2021

This week’s episode by Shelton Brown focuses on the eviction crisis in Kansas. We hear from a victim of eviction who lost her apartment after also losing her job at Frito-Lay along with an advocate for renters in Kansas and Missouri.

During the pandemic, weaknesses and outright holes in our country’s safety net have become more obvious. Entire swaths of our country, it’s even more clear now, have no safety net at all. Brown’s story describes how government agencies don’t quickly aid people when they are evicted, let alone count how many evictions are occurring. What could be more vital to track than families in crisis?

Who can help? Brown’s reporting shows that eviction advocate groups sometimes aren’t even official enough to be called “organizations.” They are simply ad hoc groups of sympathetic citizens.

This kind of improvised safety net can’t become trustworthy when called upon instantly. That’s why government aid for victims of eviction has been so slow to arrive even though it has been allocated for months, which is even more pressing considering we have ended the eviction moratorium.

As the words from the sources of the story make heart wrenchingly clear, people on the brink of losing their homes need aid now.

Hong Zhang Knows We’re All A Mess

Real Humans, Sept. 5, 2021

Gina Kaufman introduces us to Hong Zhang, a Lawrence-based artist whose work has been tangling into complex personal and political themes during the past year. An exhibition will project Zhang’s work onto the side of a New York City building this month. The conversation between Kaufman and the artist is personal and heartfelt, giving us access to the meditations that undergird Zhang’s art.

So much podcasting has simply been covering the quick-changing news of the past few years. That’s for good reason during this time of political, social and cultural upheaval. The unique podcasting space that Gina Kaufman has created is not simply reporting. Kaufman is storytelling: meeting new people and adding her reflections. So, in this episode we learn of the evolution of Zhang’s art, but also Kaufman’s interpretations. With Real Humans, we get to meet a new person and pinpoint meaning in their story.

Landing In the Hospital With COVID-19 is Getting More Expensive. Here’s Why.

KCUR, Aug. 31, 2021

Need another reason to get a COVID-19 vaccination? This report from the Kansas News Service structured in a Q&A format explains how the financial obligations that patients are experiencing have ramped up as the pandemic continues.

While those financial regulations and billing practices aren’t the same across all health insurance carriers, some are burdening the patients of COVID-19 with greater bills. Also, some doctor’s offices are providing what the reporter Celia Llopis-Jepsen calls a “surprise bill.” These bills from hospitals and doctors sometimes seek to find loopholes in legislation passed by Congress to prevent any sort of price gouging or predatory billing around COVID-19

The accompanying text story from the Kansas News Service provides a bit more depth than the audio version and more financial reasons to steer clear of the virus.

Fall Festivals Return Just As COVID-19 Cases Spike in Kansas

KMUW, Sept. 3, 2021

This agile report from “The Range” quickly recaps all the cancellations that hit festivals and fairs during the past year, along with the dilemma of whether to continue those events during the fall.

The summary? COVID realities are changing from day to day, so there is no precise answer of how safe an event will be or whether you should attend one.

This has been the story of my last few weeks as the executive director of an educational nonprofit that normally hosts a fall conference with hundreds of students attending. This year, we are drastically changing the event to target teachers, which reduces the number of people.

Events like those in the story are yet another part of our culture that is on the seesaw of COVID-19 — constantly teetering from optimistic to endangered.  

Totally Fine – Chief Smith – The Rainmakers – Steve Kraske

Streetwise, Sept. 3, 2021

Steve Kraske’s name is a constant in this weekly Audio Astra column. His interviews with Kansas and regional newsmakers are the staple of his KCUR program Up To Date. This week, however, we found coverage about Kraske. The Pitch KC wrote about him in print, and this week it broadcast a reading of that story in their Streetwise podcast.

The story by Allison Harris gives an overview of his career. He certainly deserves the profile after decades at the Kansas City Star and years of hosting the daily Kansas City area audio program.

I find people across the political spectrum and region who admire Kraske’s work. Reflecting that, the story reads a bit like what it was mistaken for by many readers: an obituary wrapping up his career. The editorial decision is odd, if characteristically quirky, from the Pitch KC. They assign the profile of Kraske to one of his former students. Profiling your mentor is daunting to do with any sort of nuance, so the piece reads a bit like cheerleading.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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