Political reporter, The Sacramento Bee
When Sophia Bollag moved to Sacramento in 2016 after graduating from Northwestern University, she knew covering politics and the governor of the most populous state in the country would be challenging, but she couldn’t have imagined the position she found herself in earlier this year.
“My beat was basically the governor, health care policy and the budget,” says Bollag, 26, who joined The Sacramento Bee in November 2018. “So that beat has gotten much bigger. … The biggest change, in terms of the work I’m doing, there’s certainly more of it.”
As the lead reporter for The Bee’s coverage of Gov. Gavin Newsom and California’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Bollag estimates that as of mid-May, she had written more than 70 stories about the crisis. She knows how important it is to provide accurate information to her readers.
“Pursue jobs where you’ll be able to do engaging, challenging work that you love. That’s always been my priority while navigating the journalism industry, and it’s served me well as a guiding principle in an often chaotic job market.”
“I’ve always taken that responsibility seriously, but it’s never felt so real and urgent as it does right now,” Bollag says. “Partly because I am experiencing it along with everybody else, which is not usually the case with stories I cover. … Usually, you’re reporting on things that happen to other people. This is something that is happening to everyone all at once.”
Bollag grew up in Hercules and Orinda and has lived in Sacramento since she landed an internship with the Los Angeles Times to cover state politics after earning a degree in journalism from Northwestern. She also covered state government for The Associated Press for nearly two years before joining The Bee.
Since the governor issued a shelter-in-place order on March 19, the way Bollag covers her beat has changed dramatically. “That first news conference I remember covering when Gov. Newsom talked extensively about coronavirus … the room was packed … (and everyone was) jockeying for space, trying to get in a question. Now, that’s unimaginable.”
Like many others in the region, Bollag works most days from her apartment, usually covering the governor’s briefings via conference call, though she did attend the news conference on May 14 when Newsom unveiled his updated budget proposal that calls for cuts in state spending to make up for a $54.3 billion deficit brought on by the pandemic. “It was very different,” Bollag says. “There were like nine reporters and a dozen staffers, and we were all spaced out.”
At the peak of The Bee’s coronavirus coverage, visits to sacbee.com were up about 2.5 times, according to Scott Lebar, The Bee’s managing editor. Bollag says she’s also had an increase in feedback from readers, some complimenting her for the questions she has asked the governor, others asking about unemployment benefits or how to reach state officials. “We’re sort of that access point for our readers,” she says.
Bollag credits her colleagues for providing nearly around-the-clock coverage throughout the pandemic. “There are a lot of stories I’m very proud of, and I’m really proud of the whole team, figuring out how to (cover) this,” Bollag says. “I feel more motivated than ever to work hard and push for answers from the public officials I cover.”
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