Newsroom Notes: The New Normal
How do you run a newsroom through these unusual times? We’re providing a first-hand view from an industry veteran who agreed to lead the KOMU Newsroom during a faculty search process—just as the Covid-19 crisis began unfolding.
It’s Friday morning and we are closing in on our first week of “new normal” at KOMU. I am blessed that my “new normal” is only disrupting my intended trips home thanks in great measure to a lot of innovation and creativity by everyone in the KOMU newsroom. Suspect every newsroom is learning new ways of doing things.
Beginning Monday, our reporters never set foot in the newsroom. Our rules include workplace hygiene that we’ve been practicing for weeks, but this week began rules seriously limiting the number of people that can be in the newsroom at any given time. One anchor, one meteorologist, one broadcast producer, one director one additional staffer and a manager.
If you’ve ever been around The Missouri School of Journalism you know about the Tiger Chair and alumni know that you never started editing your story until a faculty member goes through your script with a fine-tooth comb. For years it was an actual chair—more recently a standup desk. Starting last Monday, that became a remote function. All of our digital producers work remotely and our Assignment Manager works from his house with the newsroom phone forwarded to his cellphone. The other departments all work remotely. Of course, Engineering is in the building, but we’ve enforced strict compartmentalization—when I need to talk with the Chief Engineer, it’s by phone.
We haven’t had a story “miss slot” all week. I probably just jinxed our success by bragging about it.
Ten days ago, every reporter came back to the newsroom to write and edit their story. Our reporters are still going in the field, but we strictly enforce social distancing—if a reporter comes back with an interview that looks like we got too close to a subject, we call them out. We’ve improved some boom microphones, acquired a few old-fashioned mic stands and suffered through a few interviews recorded off the camera mic. Audio matters—a lot. Between Facetime, Skype and Zoom, we’ve tried them all. By the way, if you are using Zoom, a caution about the internal recording function—that is done “in the cloud” and it can take a while until your interview is available.
Was talking to a colleague in a nearby market whose station has established remote “ingest” stations in a nearby location. I’ve seen many colleagues who have ensconced their anchors in “home-studios” so they can avoid coming into the station. We are all innovating in ways we never would have had time to do otherwise.
Did I tell you that every reporter is a student? About two-thirds of our producers are students and many are now picking up two shows at a time. That PSA from my colleague Kent Collins who coordinates recruiting—drop him a line at CollinsKS@Missouri.edu.
In last Sunday’s Newsroom Notes, I closed with a verse from Ecclesiastes Chapter 3. Seems like a good signoff. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Let me hear from you: Sackermann@Missouri.edu.