advertisement
advertisement

NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny plunges into the darkest recesses of the internet

Covering the spread of disinformation is a never-ending task. Here’s how she sets boundaries without missing a tip.

NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny plunges into the darkest recesses of the internet
[Photo: Gioncarlo Valentine]
advertisement
advertisement

The pandemic has made everything crazy in terms of disinformation and conspiracy theories, so what was an all-encompassing beat has now become somehow worse. Everybody’s lost their minds. There’s always something that is desperately in need of someone to shine a light on. So it’s been good in that way, because my work is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I feel fulfilled. But, the stakes are so high.

advertisement
advertisement

I cover how technology is influencing people—how it changes the way that we communicate and what we believe. That takes being extremely accessible. I like that anybody can get in touch with me. All of my favorite stories have [started with] basically one woman in a Facebook group messaging me to say, “What do you think of this?” and catching my attention. So when you invite that, [it] comes with a lot of bad stuff. [The hate mail I receive is] a lot, I can tell you that. And it’s from all sides—Instagram, Twitter. It doesn’t really get to me, because these people don’t know me. It’s often about my physical appearance, which I feel pretty fine about. I do have a level of empathy for these folks that I probably shouldn’t, so I tend to view it more with bemusement and sadness than anything else.

I can report from my backyard with my feet in a baby swimming pool, and that’s great. [Working through the pandemic] has been a nice way to show management, and all of the media companies, that a lot of our work can be done from home.

On the weekends, if there’s something to do, I’ll hop right on it. The beat’s really hard. If you are just parachuting into the Portland protest and you don’t know who Patriot Prayer is, that’s bad, because they have this long history of hate and extremism and rabble-rousing. So I want NBC to have all of that color and information, and I feel responsible there. When I unplug, it’s only because I know that [fellow NBC News reporter Ben Collins] is there. Even if he doesn’t have a byline on something I’ve written, he’s absolutely seen it or knows about it, or we’ve talked through it. And the same thing with most of his stuff.

Time she gets up

6 a.m.

First thing she does in the morning

“Check Things, then open Twitter and see what I may have missed. Then I’m on Slack, checking in with my editor, saying, Okay, there’s a shooting in Kenosha. [If we determine that it] has to do with either militias or some sort of right-wing thing, then that’s my beat. I’m going to get started on this now.”

advertisement

Productivity tools

“Things. It’s the only productivity app that I’ve ever used that’s helped me. It helps me organize so I’m not late and I don’t miss things. Which I still do, but it helps. My favorite soundtrack to listen to when I work is train sounds. I’m a bit of a weirdo, but I like the seclusion. There’s a Spotify playlist called Train Sounds. There’s also one that’s a YouTube video of someone hiking through the woods. There’s a series of them. It’s really great to work to.”

How she handles email and Slack

“I’m in a number of Slack groups with researchers and extremism experts and academics and other journalists. The digital arm of NBC News is very Slack-focused, and that’s how I communicate. I don’t read my email. A lot of email is angry people, and people who are anti-vaccination, or people who are conspiracy theorists who want to yell at me, so I just learned, in a behavioral, psychological sort of way, that that’s the bad place.”

Her relationship with social media

“I’m on all of the apps. I’m extremely online, not in the way that I share all of my personal information or kids’ pictures, but I am literally always looking at Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. My kids just know that about me. My daughter wanted to tweet before she could do anything, just because she always sees me on that platform. Twitter I use to communicate with sources. I get most of my tips from DMs. Facebook is not cool. I don’t know any young people on Facebook. If I could delete Facebook tomorrow, I would be the happiest person on the planet. I do really like Instagram. I’m sort of an introvert, but I like being connected with people in a way that is not too taxing, like I can keep up with what’s going on in their lives.”

What she lets slide without feeling guilty

“I have two priorities: my children and this job. So with everything that I’m asked to do, I have to think, Does this help further my reporting, or does this help my children in some way, and then sort of weigh that option. But, if it doesn’t, then the answer is just ‘no’ to everything.”

Worst habit

“I still pull all-nighters, which is terrible for your health, but I can’t write with any distractions. It’s more about quieting all of the noises, and even my own anxiety. When it comes time to actually write, it makes me feel anxious, like I’m not a good enough writer, or this lead is dumb, or it’s not turning out the way I want it to. Part of the solution for me has just been going to an incredibly quiet place, where I can just really focus on that one task: writing words down, and making them make sense and hopefully sound good.”

advertisement

Time she goes to bed

Midnight.