Earlier this week, the mayor of Austin issued a 'Stay-At-Home' order in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. This basically translates to encouraging all of us to work/play/live at home, closing most shops/dine-in/companies with the exception of "essential businesses". There seems to be a lot of gray area as to what "essential" actually means - but I do know that we, as a news organization, fall in that category.
NOTE: Throughout this post are a handful of camera shots we've been implementing in newscasts to show viewers at home that we are doing our part to social distance-- "less than 10, 6 feet apart".
Over the last two weeks, my station (KXAN) has been figuring out how to keep staff safe & healthy, abide by Mayor's orders, all while continuing newscast productions. At this point, we've deployed most of our reporters, photojournalists, web, sales, and marketing teams to either work from home or in the field... we've set-up producers with laptops to create shows from home... and we are now in the process of equipping anchors and meteorologists with the technology to do the same. Less than 10 people are allowed in the newsroom at a time, those who do work in the newsroom now have assigned seats that are 6 feet apart, and only anchors/reporters/floor crew are allowed in studio (no producers or directors). We were also all given laminated 'permission slips' signed by the government with our names at the top in case we would ever need to prove to someone we work for an 'essential business' and are allowed to be out driving to and from work.
Now until deemed absolutely necessary to leave, the weather team has willingly continued to work in studio... but with some new guidelines. We now wipe down every keyboard and mouse, armchair, phone, desk, microphone and ear piece in our area before and after every shift. There is only one of us allowed in studio at a time (no overlapping). We lost our intern - as now only employees are allowed in the building. And we're now limited to doing our weathercast primarily on the green screen and weather podium (no anchors in the Weather Center to cross-talk or full team opens/closes on the news desk). It seems minor compared to other industries and/or people who no longer even have a job (and for those people, we pray) -- but it is an adjustment in my world. And everyday, I try to do what I can to obey.
Sidebar: Throughout this process, the higher-ups have done what they could to make sure we, as employees, are taken care of. And personally, I appreciate their effort. (And I'm not just saying that because they sign my paycheck.) I'm saying that because I have had no need to leave the studio in the last two weeks. KXAN has catered both lunch and dinner (everyday, including weekends). I'm given cleaning supplies. I'm sent frequent emails updating me as to what's going on. And I'm given guidance by managers as to 'what's next'. In an industry that can often be plagued with toxicity and "divas", I lucked out with this group. They care. And I respect that.
Now if we're being honest, I'm very hesitant at the idea of working from home. Personally, I feel most comfortable forecasting in the Weather Center, surrounded by my computers, all the data right in front of me, one camera to look at and lights to hide the dark circles under my eyes. I know what I need, how to get it and what to do if something goes wrong. But you send me home with a new computer, a light kit & iPhone holder? Tech problems galore and IMMEDIATE ANXIETY. I don't know which plug goes where, which network to "dial into" or how to make my dorm-like living room look professional. It's... not ideal. (I've just started the process of setting up my new "work from home" space -- so details to come on that later.) Not to mention the fact that I already get lonely in studio with everyone working in the newsroom on a "normal" day -- so further isolation is going to make me lose my mind.
To no surprise, I've talked to many of my coworkers and teammates about this and the feelings are mutual -- we're willing to stick it out in studio and in the newsroom until forced out. We want to do our jobs. We have a passion to inform, especially in times of need, disaster and tragedy. We'll do our part to social distance, self-quarantine and stay safe... but let us continue to do what we love to do, report the news.
Realistically, this situation looks to get worse before it gets better. And there will more than likely come a time where most (if not, all) of us will be adjusting to a new temporary normal. But at the end of the day, it's encouraging to know that I'm surrounded by a kick-butt, 'not-going-to-be-defeated', all-in kind of team. And for that, I'm grateful.
We're only a week in... and I'm ready for this nightmare to be over.
I've seen scripts at work with words and phrases like "unprecedented" "historic" "once-in-a-century" and "unparalleled". We've seen multi-million-dollar events that have been planned for months cancelled, schools closed, bars boarding windows & restaurants shutting their doors. Some cities even going so far as sheltering-in-place -- and really, it's not a matter of if they issue an order to shelter-in-place for the rest of us, but when.
I realize the importance of being proactive - the now normalized "self-quarantine" and "social distancing"... and I understand the significance of "flattening the curve" and preventing the spread. The crisis surrounding COVID-19 is something most of us have truly never seen before. It continues to bring out the very best... and very worst of people. It's overwhelming, scary and, put bluntly, frustrating. But what I find most intimidating - we don't know when it'll end.
I'm curious to know how others feels.
My honest take:
Often times, I feel like working in the news industry numbs the realness of certain situations. We've been talking NON-STOP about the coronavirus for the past three weeks - every show, every A block, every web story, every email. We do it because people need the information. It's our job to inform, to make sure people are aware of what's going on. But there comes a point during every tragedy/crisis/life-shattering event we cover, where I feel desensitized from the "human" aspect of it. We're so consumed in the information, that sometimes, the numbers lose significance... and the statistics lose impact. Every day, we're talking about somebody else's 'worst day of their life', another unfair disaster or simply just bad people doing bad things. It's the business. And although every story is not doom & gloom, it's our responsibility to report what's important to the viewer. It's not always going to be puppies and rainbows.
I'll admit - I wasn't the first to react to news of the virus. Call it denial, but it took me awhile to truly understand the urgency of this situation. It took my little sister coming to visit for me to actually go to the grocery store and get at least a couple days worth of food. And even then, I was hesitant to buy a ton of supplies knowing all of it wouldn't fit in my small kitchen pantry.
Initially, I was dismissive... but it feels different now.
Looking around, coronavirus is impacting every aspect of life. Everyday I wake up, there is a notification on my phone regarding a 'COVID-19 update.' On my way into work, what is usually a good 35 minute commute is now a 10 minute drive with little to no traffic (and in this city, that's almost unthinkable). There are few, if any, people out on what is usually a busy street in my neighborhood. I pull into work, and the parking lot is not even 3/4 full. What is suppose to be a 1-hour long newscast at noon is instead a live press conference from the governor. Every time I leave for the day, I now take a Clorox wipe to the keyboard, mouse and weather clicker. Only to drive home (without any traffic) and google a place that might be open for take-out. It feels movie-like, but in a dark, apocalypse kind of way.
Obviously, it's terrifying to think people are getting sick from this virus - some even, fatally ill. The idea of contracting the virus and/or potentially giving it to someone whose immune system is compromised or at an age that puts them at a higher risk - is truly gut-wrenching. But I think what really overwhelms me, is how long is it going to be like this? How long will we be cooped up without anything or anyone to look forward to? Still feeling new to the city, will I lose the progress I made making friends? Or a relationship? Will the stores eventually deplete their stock... leaving shelves empty? Will someone I know or love fall victim to this? How many will still have a job at the end of this?
This is not just an "us" problem... but an "all" problem. Everyone, everywhere, all over the globe, has felt some sort of shift in their life from this. (And for those like me who thrive on routine and normalcy, we're an anxious mess.) I know we will get through this... and I still firmly believe God is in control. But with the constant talk of this 'global emergency' running through my earpiece at work everyday and the empty apartment I go home to after every shift, it's hard not to lose spirit in the loneliness, realness of the life-altering COVID-19.