Let’s hop in a time machine to June 2, 2020: Masks were still mandatory everywhere, and we were still half a year away from having access to a Covid-19 vaccine. George Floyd was murdered while in police custody just days earlier, a story that sent shockwaves through the nation. To make life even more chaotic, we were in the midst of a heated presidential election campaign.
Fast forward to the present: We have multiple Covid-19 vaccines, an increasing number of Americans are getting vaccinated, coronavirus transmission rates appear to be declining across the U.S. and the country is finally starting to reopen again.
It’s safe to say that life is a bit less stressful and scary for many Americans today compared to 365 days ago. But what about on the job front? What, if anything, has changed for TV news journalists since this time last year?
We caught up with ABC Nightline co-host Juju Chang, CBS’ 60 Minutes+ correspondent Seth Doane, Noticiero Univision co-anchor Ilia Calderón, Fox News correspondent Griff Jenkins, CNBC Fast Money, Options Action host Melissa Lee, CNBC Squawk Box co-host Becky Quick, Fox News’ America Reports co-anchor Sandra Smith, Noticiero Univision Weekend co-anchor Paulina Sodi and CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent Ben Tracy to find out the biggest differences they’ve noticed, work-wise, going into the summer of 2021.
Chang: A year ago, I found myself on the streets covering protests in the week after George Floyd was murdered. It marked the beginning of a grueling summer of journalism on park benches and socially distanced spaces on the twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racial equity. No one was taking their foot off the gas pedal journalistically. But this year, I think we are all looking for room to breathe, both in the types of stories that we are pursuing and the intensity with which we are pursuing them. I love being able to interview people face to face again. I love being able to cover a wider array of stories. That said, we are trying to keep an eye out for what feels like a long, hot summer of people acting out in the public sphere. The post-pandemic world is not all rosy.
Calderón: Summer 2020 was a very difficult, uncertain time. Covering Covid-19 and the rising number of deaths, especially within our Black and Hispanic communities, because of this pandemic, was emotionally draining and scary as well. As the months went by, with the idea of a vaccine, hope came along. Summer 2021 is feeling a little different now because millions of Americans have been vaccinated, and with that there are certain fears that are fading little by little. However, reporting on many hard working people who lost business and life savings trying to keep them afloat, has also been a tragic reality. This is a reminder that this pandemic should be taken seriously, and we should always be informed about the best safety precautions. Looking forward to a fun and safe summer for all. It’s important to honor the lives lost by doing the right thing.
Doane: Travel! That’s—by far—the biggest difference for me. I’m based in Rome and wasn’t leaving Italy at all last summer. Though we did get to shoot some pretty cool adventure stories there. I learned to SCUBA dive for a piece that took us into the depths of the Bay of Naples to see the ancient, sunken city of Baia. Now, I’ve been back on the road, journeying up close to an erupting volcano in Iceland for 60 Minutes+. The volcano is remarkably accessible to scientists, tourists… and journalists. We’re just back from another 60 Minutes+ trip to the Netherlands for a story on some pretty fascinating innovations taking place there. Italy (and the EU) is still behind the US when it comes to vaccinations so I traveled to America to get vaccinated and used the opportunity to shoot another story state-side. The backs of my ears are getting sore from wearing masks on these long flights… but it’s good to be back on the road.
Jenkins: It’s a far cry from last summer when the streets and businesses were empty—and airports were ghost towns. The biggest change I have seen as Americans embrace our emergence from the pandemic is they are increasing confident in traveling.
I have to travel for a story next week and for the first time since the pandemic hit, I had trouble finding hotels where I am traveling. That’s something that is on one hand frustrating but at the same time encouraging that we are coming back and there is hope the worst is behind us.
Lee: It’s like night and day! Last summer, doing the show was like conducting a Zoom call every night, calling on traders to respond to questions or comment, to avoid that awkward “over talk” because of delays. Now, we are back at the Nasdaq Marketsite in Times Square as of June 1. We only have two traders on set and two remote, but I think we have recaptured the flow of the conversation and the quick back and forth, which is a pillar of the show.
The workload is about the same in terms of show prep, research and reporting. However, the topics are very different. We went from staring into the unknown in terms of the economy and shape of the pandemic to talking about the reopening of the country. I’m even working on a documentary now and traveling for shoots, which would have been unheard of a year ago.
I hadn’t done the show “normally” from our Nasdaq studio since early December 2019, prior to going on maternity leave, so it had been a long time. It is great to be back!
Quick: The biggest difference for me this year versus last? I’m actually going into work, rather than broadcasting from my spare bedroom! It’s a big change, and a welcome one. I’d forgotten how much better it is to be able to sit face-to-face with my colleagues. No more awkward delays, or tripping over each other verbally. We can read each other’s body language. We can talk and catch up during the commercial breaks. Oh yeah—and somebody *else* is doing my hair these days, instead of me doing it alone. Vast improvement!
Smith: The biggest difference I have noticed, on air and off, heading into this summer versus last is the faces! Specifically, seeing people’s faces!
This simple fact has changed the way we interact and bridged much of distance forced upon us by the pandemic. As more and more of us are vaccinated and infection rates tumble, we have been able to remove the masks in so many more settings.
Much of what we do as journalists is about words, but equally important our ability to communicate as investigators and storytellers. In doing so, one learns that facial expressions often speak louder than words.
2021 has been a wild year filled with emotion. Whether it be anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, or surprise I applaud our reporters and guests who were able to convey these emotions during the pandemic while wearing a mask. It has certainly challenged me and changed the dynamic of a LIVE shot. That being said, I am so happy to finally see the smiling faces of my colleagues in the office, in the studio and from around the world. Smiles are powerful, contagious and necessary!
Sodi: A year ago, I was reporting about the numbers of infections and deaths because of Covid 19. It was hard to see the numbers increase without control and realize we were talking about humans beings. People like you and me; moms, dads, kids whom lost their lives because of a virus. I learned to work with a smaller team since many worked from home. At some point I had to learn how to manage with all that new stress, giving my best at work, trying to avoid getting infected and keeping the faith my family in Mexico would be healthy and safe.
Tracy: This summer already feels like a different world from a year ago. Last year at this time I was covering the Trump White House in the middle of the pandemic. There were no foreign trips or much of a campaign to even cover given nobody was traveling. This summer I am now covering climate and the environment and traveling all over the United States. I just got back from a trip to Nevada to see the impacts of the intense drought on the Colorado River system. We have several other stories in the works in various corners of the country. It feels so liberating to travel again for work and finally get back out on the road. I am so grateful for the scientists who created the vaccines in record time to allow us to get back to whatever this new normal will be.