What a year 2020 was. Across the globe communities witnessed quarantine and national lockdowns. Later, unrest in response to racial injustice boiled over. Ending the year in the US with a landmark Presidential election.
Throughout it all, newsrooms far and wide, big and small were on the pulse. Whether it was tracking the latest COVID-19 safety precautions, following supply chain shortages and shoppers’ quest for the last role of toilet paper, sharing stories from protests or delivering the latest election results.
Before starting at March, I was lucky enough to be part of one of these newsrooms, WWLP in Chicopee, Mass.
But when I walked into the station on my first day, ready to start my training to be a producer, it was not what I was expecting. There was no morning briefing on the top stories, no running from the studio to the control room, and no groups of reporters scrambling to cover breaking news. It was empty.
COVID-19 changed the way the newsroom operated. Many journalists had to work from home to keep capacity low and keep those who were high risk safe. “I was personally working from a news vehicle from March to July with a laptop, not allowed to report to the station,” said Nick Aresco of 22News. As a producer, you must be in constant communication with your reporters and your anchors to ensure that you are getting the most relevant stories out to the public. Not only was I new to the station and the news industry, but I was also struggling to reach my anchor who was working from home and my reporter that was not allowed in the station. This caused a small disconnect between our team.
Conducting interviews became tough, with people afraid of being in close contact with others. As did hitting the road to stories, many large-scale events cancelled or changed to virtual events. Reporters and producers were forced to get creative to find newsworthy stories with people who were willing to talk and had the time to talk. While my reporters were out trying to find a news-worthy story, I was in the station writing supplemental stories to fill the show. I was covering the increasing cases, the riots that broke out in Minneapolis, and one of the most controversial elections in recent history.
Nevertheless, overcoming the obstacles COVID-19 built pushed newsrooms to test out technology which it had barely dipped its toe in. “I think our job didn’t change too much but created some smarter ways to get things done because of how good the technology was,” said Hector Molina of 22News. Zoom, FaceTime, and recorded phone interviews became the new normal. Anchoring over Skype was seen more on newscasts to maintain social distancing and meteorologists created their forecast in the safety of their own home. With no in-person events to cover, reporters were limited to virtual events, in which Zoom calls were encoded for b-roll and for soundbites. With the technology to encode the meetings, reporters had more time to cover more stories and perfect them.
In being forced to innovate, newsrooms became more acquainted with communication technology previously only applied in business settings. It was not the newsroom atmosphere I had expected when I started but it was amazing to see how even the most in-person production could change and adapt to a new normal with the help of technology.
While many people were forced to work from home during the pandemic, perhaps seeing journalists at home as well made TV news more personable than it even was before. Without the technology that we used as a result, architecting a newscast and all the components that go along with building it, my job would have been a great challenge. I believe that these changes will continue to be used in the future, ultimately revolutionizing journalism.