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.