Editors’ note: Readers are often unfamiliar with the dynamics involved in publishing a magazine, which is as exciting as it is challenging. Despite all of planning that goes into an issue, it’s not unusual for editorial teams to have to modify their plan at the last minute due to unforeseen world events. In this audio report, Laura Ieraci, assistant editor of ONE, shares how the magazine pivoted in response to Russia’s invasion on Ukraine to bring readers the feature article “Closer to the People.” Listen to her “story behind the story” and read the full feature article in the September issue of ONE. A full transcript follows.
Sometimes a journalist won’t know where an assignment will go at the outset. It’s part of the adventure built into journalism.
So, they will “follow the story” and adjust their interviews and sources as needed as they go, based on current events, new, credible and verifiable information, or other circumstances.
For many journalists, these ups and downs and twists and turns in the development of a story are the most exhilarating aspects of the work. What this often means is that for every story that is published, there is another story — a backstory — about how it came to life. And sometimes that backstory — often paired with drama in the newsroom — can be just as intriguing as the article readers get to read.
Every newsroom has backstories like this about reports that were adjusted right up until printing, or features that had to be pulled or put on hold due to some major event that demanded that the story be reworked or canned altogether.
It was assigned last December to my trusted colleague Anna Nekrasova-Wilson, a Ukrainian freelance journalist based in London, for publication in March of this year.
Anna’s assignment was to report on the formation of Ukrainian Greek Catholic seminarians in Ukraine in the context of the country’s sociopolitical challenges, including an eight-year war at its eastern border.
At the time, news about the deployment of Russian troops at Ukraine’s eastern border was making headlines, but most people seemed to maintain a healthy skepticism — though some would argue a naïve disbelief — that Russia would invade its neighbor.
December turned to January and, as tensions between Russia and Ukraine grew, Anna and our freelance photographer and videographer in Ukraine, Konstantin Chernichkin, persevered with great speed in their reporting. With the flip of the calendar to February, the race was on to edit Anna’s story and Konstantin’s powerful photographs and video. Our printer deadline was 25 February and a Russian invasion was looking imminent.
The urgency to edit our media was amplified by the communication I received from Konstantin: He was submitting photos and video while trying to evacuate his family to Poland. He needed quick, same-day feedback on his video edits before a likely Russian invasion. By the third week of February, urgency shifted to concern when Konstantin stopped responding to my emails.
However, just as Konstantin went M.I.A., and with a Russian invasion looming, our editor, Michael La Civita, delayed the submission of our magazine files to the printer by one week. The context Anna provided in her story no longer reflected the changing situation, so we pulled her story from the March lineup, replacing it with another piece. Days later, Russia invaded and Anna’s story was put on ice indefinitely.
We waited and observed the changing and terrifying situation in Ukraine for five months before we decided we could pull out Anna’s story from our files. But it could no longer run as submitted. The context had changed; Ukraine had changed; the world had changed.
The story needed a significant rehaul and I got on board to try to provide that. Admittedly, it was a challenge to update it from my home office near Chicago. So, I called on some friends to help me out, after a few failed attempts to reach interview subjects in Ukraine.
Through one friend, I got a hold of Father Roman Ostrovskyy, vice rector for academic affairs at the seminary in Kyiv, who graciously and patiently provided details in Italian — because I don’t speak Ukrainian — about how life at the seminary had changed since the invasion. The interview took place over several days on Facebook Messenger, as questions were asked and answered according to our respective time zones. Understandably, Father Ostrovskyy had a lot on his plate and would reply when he could.
I also drew on some of Konstantin’s raw on-camera interviews he had sent me in mid-February, which were not in Anna’s original piece, to include more pertinent views from the seminarians. I relied on another friend to help translate these interviews into English.
And so, pre- and post-invasion interviews came together in one carefully edited piece for our readers.
And that’s the story behind the story reported in “Closer to the People.”
I hope you’ll be as moved by the interviews of these faith-filled priests and seminarians as I was.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, Konstantin eventually replied to my emails and he continues to be very busy reporting on the war.
Laura Ieraci is assistant editor of ONE.