March 31, 2020
Personal trauma helps reporter cover coronavirus
Journalist Meribah Knight is on the frontlines of covering the coronavirus in Nashville. Recent trauma in her life makes Knight even more empathetic toward those who are struggling during these trying times
By Carmen Gentile
Meribah Knight is a reporter covering Nashville’s downtrodden and neglected.
Knight, 37, has seen it all. Murder victims, suicides and those “who are beaten down and oppressed.”
“People living on the margins who are often overlooked and forgotten is a lot of what I cover,” she said.
While working for Nashville Public Radio, Knight has produced stories about the region’s meteoric growth and how those on the margins are sometimes pushed aside, victims of developers and gentrification.
Recently, she and her husband Andrew Nelles, a photojournalist, and their 17-month-old son, became the story when their home was destroyed in a tornado that shredded many abodes in the Nashville area.
Then, with barely a moment to spare after resettling in a temporary apartment, the coronavirus pandemic shattered everyone’s reality.
Now, each day is a juggling act. With Knight’s and Nelles’ work schedules, coupled with coordinating daycare for their son amid a global pandemic that’s spreading in every corner of Postindustrial America, she has barely a moment to breathe.
But Knight took a moment to talk to Postindustrial about her experience in the tornado and how her trauma has helped her be a better reporter covering a fast-moving and unpredictable virus.
“I feel this (losing her home) is a very valuable lesson for me as a reporter, being displaced, having (endured) trauma,” she told me during our brief conversation. “I know how trauma gets inside you, can get in your bones.”
Knight said however that the experience that robbed her family of their home is one that is serving her well while reporting on the spread of coronavirus.
“When I talk to someone who’s been through something traumatic, I ask different questions than what I would have asked before (she lost their home),” she said. “I just know that’s something (her recent trauma) I didn’t know before.”
These days, every story she reports is related to the coronavirus.
“It’s penetrating every single aspect (of our lives),” she noted, adding that the need for social distancing is making her job that much harder.
“It’s difficult going against your instinct” to conduct interviews face to face, she said. Like most journalists, she often relies on phones, emails, and video chats to get the latest information on the virus in the Nashville area.
She said that many Nashville residents seem to also be adhering to social distancing guidelines with a handful of exceptions including a bar that remained open for St. Patrick’s Day and other ill-conceived festivities in a city known for its round-the-clock good times and live music.
“It’s really difficult (to report on coronavirus) because the story is changing by the hour,” Knight said.
Carmen Gentile has worked for The New York Times and CBS News, among others. His book, "Blindsided by the Taliban," documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade while embedded with U.S. Army forces in Afghanistan.