TV Newsers Explain What They’re Doing to Stay Safe in the Office During COVID-19

By A.J. Katz Comment

For the second installment of our our #AskNewsers feature, we asked those TV newsers who are still going into the office to deliver the news about the adjustments they’ve made to their daily routines in order to stay safe in the studio or office building.

MSNBC dayside executive editor Dan Arnall referred to the whole process as “a mind shift and a physical one,” adding:

Social distancing in practice inside our facilities has gotten much easier. We went from having more than 100 editorial staff in the building each day before the pandemic, to seven last week, to two this week.  We can space people in our new control rooms with ease–three rows with five chairs per row, means everyone has at least one seat in between. In short order a virtual control room set-up will allow us to have just technical staff in the control room with producers being remote in rooms inside 30 Rock or from home.

I’m in awe of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our tech and operations teams who are really performing an Apollo 13 style project for television production. I keep thinking about Ed Harris playing Gene Kranz shouting out, “I don’t care about what anything was designed to do, I care about what it can do.”

The harder shift has been the psychological one–being on your toes all the time about personal safety and some of us being separated from family members. Our team has really come together to help with the emotional impact of the moment. We’re committed to our mission–millions of people around the country and world are relying on us now more than ever for clear, fact-based information so they can be safe–while at the same time thinking about our families, neighbors and work family and how we can keep them out of harm’s way.

CBS News White House correspondent Paula Reid told us about changes she has made to her daily routine. Her workplace isn’t a traditional studio or office, but rather the White House press briefing room.

“The White House press area is already a cramped space with dozens of people coming in and out all day,” Reid said. “Naturally this puts us in close contact with many of our colleagues. The White House Correspondents Association, together with Washington bureau chiefs, proactively implemented new social distancing rules in the briefing room in mid-March. Then, after a fellow White House reporter exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 and got tested (still awaiting results), further social distancing rules were put in place. CBS News as a news-gathering operation is following these rules—as well as other CDC guidelines on hand-washing, working remotely, and social distancing. We’ve been rotating White House correspondents here and I’ve been on duty this week.”

Reid added,”A once-packed briefing room now seats just two reporters in each row. Three of five networks attend on a rotating basis. It’s unfortunate that more people cannot attend, but it’s important to continue the briefings safely so we can ask questions of the president and other top officials. This is the biggest story since 9/11–lives and livelihoods hang in the balance–it’s a privilege to be here to cover the administration’s response.”

On Friday, CNBC’s svp of business news Dan Colarusso spoke about working from the network’s Englewood Cliffs, N.J. campus during this strange time.

We also caught up with NBC News and MSNBC design and production chief Marc Greenstein, who talked about the biggest adjustments he has had to make to stay safe.

The largest adjustment has been transitioning the majority of the teams to work from home. Our engineering, IT and operations group made it possible for more than 95% of the NBC News and MSNBC staff to work outside of 30 Rock and our bureaus. We’ve outfitted 22 home studios with set backgrounds, lighting and robotic cameras for our talent. We have deployed more than 150 guest and contributor cameras. The entire graphics department and about 85% of our editors are creating content from home as well.

Incredibly, we’ve been able to move the majority of the control room positions to work from home. Senior and line producers now access control room walls from their web browsers. On Friday night, we did three live shows without a single show producer in the building. They deserve so much credit for not letting this new workflow impact their ability to tell this important story. On the technical side, we have been playing back all graphics from home and soon the robotic camera and prompter operators will also be out of the building.

Of course, there remains a small, core backbone group who continues to work in the building every day—we appreciate their commitment in making it possible for us to cover this unprecedented story.

Fox & Friends First co-host Jillian Mele has continued to broadcast the network’s 5 a.m. show from New York HQ. Here are her tips to remaining safe and healthy in the workplace:

I’ve become a total crazy person. Every morning before I walk out of my house I put on some latex gloves and grab a Clorox wipe. I press elevator buttons and open doors with the wipe (and gloves, safety first) and when I get into the car, I wipe down the seats and door panel.

When I get to work, same drill: gloves are still on and Clorox wipe is in hand until I get to my office and sanitize/wash my hands.

While working, I literally hold a Clorox wipe everywhere I go and open doors and push elevator buttons with it.  I wipe down every chair I sit in, every desk I’m working at and every computer I touch.

It’s sort of become routine at this point.  I also own a phone soap sanitizer and bring it to work every day.  I place anything that will fit in it about 10 times a day including my phone, work badge, IFB—everything.

Repeat the above when I leave to go home!

We also caught up with America’s Newsroom co-anchor, Ed Henry, who now walks to work.

“As soon as I get in, the team is still humming, despite all the potential roadblocks,” he said. “Sandra [Smith] and I share an assistant Stefanie Hall, who pulls a lot of research for us and has been working through the crisis. Usually we have a whole big group of people in the studio with us, but now it’s really just me and Ben Testa, our outstanding stage manager.”

He added: “It’s a really strange for just the two of us to be in the studio at least six feet apart, but we’re bonding no doubt. But I knew things had really changed when one of our audio techs, Gustavo Jose, put on my mic and earpiece recently. He was wearing gloves. I had never seen that in television. Whole new reality. Mario Russo is down the hall from our studio controlling a robocam that provides wide shots and moving shots in our studio, so he’s a healthy distance away. And then we have three top producers – Matt Smoot, Mark Hiner, and Trina Thompson — rotating between a couple of control rooms so that they can be apart too. Whoever it was that said there is no ‘I’ in team nailed it.”

MSNBC Morning Joe First Look co-anchor Ayman Mohyeldin shared his thoughts about working from 30 Rock on Instagram:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

March 23, 2020 | New York, NY. If you’ve ever walked into a news room on a Monday morning you would know how rare it is to see one as empty as this. This is the MSNBC newsroom. Not a soul to be seen. There were no phones ringing today, no loud conversations, no colleagues laughing it up across the rows or a cranked up TV set blasting out the competition’s broadcast. This was a Monday morning newsroom in the era of a pandemic. It felt different. And yet its spirit was the same as it ever was. Invisible to the viewers who watch at home, it’s the dedicated people who fill these rows everyday that made it possible for me to anchor from the studio and to broadcast against all odds without skipping a beat. It is a testament to the incredible journalists, editors and producers working from home like millions of people around the world. These are times to be thankful and grateful for all of the workers who make so many of these places, big corporations and small shops so special. Just because you don’t see them, don’t forget them. They exist.

A post shared by A Y M A N (@aymanm) on

His colleague on Morning Joe First Look, Yasmin Vossoughian, told us:

For starters, you never really stop working, especially in news—and especially now because this story consumes and affects all of us. It’s incumbent upon us to get the most accurate and useful information for our viewers and ourselves. The teams and I are sending ideas back and forth constantly, day and night—all while I am trying to take care of my two kids, keep the house sanitized and stay on top of stories.

I am still anchoring from the studio and we have a skeleton crew in the control room doing every show which is an incredible feat. Our teams remotely produce and coordinate with the crew, while I text with segment producers and my EP to make sure we are all on the same page. The staff has figured out how to do so much of our work remotely, including printing scripts. It might sound like a small thing, but even the smallest things help when you are adjusting to a new way of working.

It takes a lot to put our shows together and we are all doing our part. Everyone has their own set of worries, stress, and anxiety. Having covered so many stories from conflict zones to this, I have never experienced anything like what we’re experiencing now. I appreciate my producers and crew and colleagues more so now than ever before and the bond we have created cannot be broken. It’s making us all better at our jobs—but the truth is, it’s hard. What’s driving me every day is that it’s hard for everybody. But our viewers rely on us for information and to be the light at the end of the tunnel… We are in this together.

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