By Deb Silverthorn
For journalists, COVID-19 has changed almost every aspect of how information makes it to the public from start to finish. Whether it’s reporting from home, managing a microphone and camera, or publishing weekly issues of the Texas Jewish Post, the news, thanks to COVID-19, is news.
At CBS-11, political reporter Jack Fink is still on the road but carrying a heavier load to meet social distancing recommendations from his photographer and interview subjects.
“I have a job to do. Covering the coronavirus is an extension of what news teams always do and that’s to get the stories out. Now, most of our stories circle back to COVID-19, even the remotely associated stories and the way we are bringing the news to our audience,” said Fink, still wearing a suit and tie, but sporting extended locks · his every three weeks haircut delayed, now for at least to seven. “We’ve been reporting on this since February, certainly with a lesser degree of frequency to begin with.”
CBS management insists that its employees’ health and safety are primary which has shifted Fink’s reporting process. Interviews are done by Facetime and phone whenever possible. While he normally would have been front and center at a recent Collin County Commissioner’s meeting, Fink listened in from his car, parked outside the administration building instead. Later doing his “standup” outside the building.
Fink’s wife, Amy Chodroff is half of the “News & Information” in the morning duo at KLIF-570. She has seen her 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. on-air experience change more in the last four weeks than in her 15 years on Dallas’ airwaves.
“We can’t stop giving out information — it’s what we do and who we are. I’m in the studio now but for two weeks I was home — my ‘commute’ reduced to about three minutes, just up the stairs to my ‘studio,’” said Chodroff, who self-quarantined and anchored from home after her daughter returned from college in New York. “Now, with our family cleared, I’m back in the studio with Dave [Williams]. We’re working from different studios, spending 20 minutes to disinfect and I feel like I’m bathing in sanitizer.”
KLIF-570’s morning team updates each days’ news, also on experts regarding unemployment, finance, internet technology and home schooling issues. The team is featuring happy ‘moments’ too, all the while trying to entertain, not just report the doom of the day.
“We are working remotely, and we are busy. There is no shortage of stories of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the North Texas Jewish community. Our job is to tell them,” said TJP Publisher and Editor Sharon Wisch-Ray. Although allowed to work in the office as an essential business, the TJP team is working from their homes to help mitigate spread of the coronavirus, heading into their Belt Line and Coit office only when necessary.
Seventy-three years without missing an issue, Wisch-Ray’s parents, the paper’s co-founders Jimmy and Rene Wisch, set the bar. “I remember growing up my dad frequently traveled overseas to cover the Jewish communities around the world. He would phone and my mother would type as he dictated his report from Israel, the Soviet Union or other locales. Technology has made things so much easier for us.”
On any given week, the TJP’s deadline for stories and ads is Thursday. Tuesday is “the day we go to press,” said Wisch-Ray. “It is always a busy day and ideally we finish around 6 or 7 p.m.” For the last month, deadline is closer to publication time as headlines change, information is updated and new stories come in — bumping others — for sake of urgency. On more than one occasion it’s been closer to sunrise Wednesday mornings, than the previous night’s sunset, before the team closes shop.
Dallas-born Rachel Goodman, lives in New York City and works as an associate producer for NBC Sports. She has turned her bedroom into home-base. Her radiator — which sits along the only window and source of natural light and fresh air — has become her desktop, but that isn’t slowing her down.
Goodman was scheduled to cover the Triple Crown, but the Kentucky Derby has been rescheduled for September and the status of the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes are still to be determined. She was preparing to head to Tokyo, Japan for the Olympics, before they were postponed to July 2021. Goodman says her view of Manhattan was not expected. She interned with NBC, in 2016 in Brazil, worked Stateside during the 2018 Winter Games, and was ready for the front lines of storytelling of the world’s stages.
“I am usually out in the field, on-site with my interviews, and now I should be getting ready for Tokyo. Instead, I’m getting it done from a few hundred square feet,” said Goodman, grateful for an incredible engineering team, noting one of the biggest changes for her is the loss of her daily three-hour train commute. “We’re still telling stories and putting our pieces together. the Olympics have been postponed, not canceled. Some stories will change – many will be the same, but sharing the best of our athletes, and the spirit they hold on to, is something we can all hope for.”
Dallas Cowboys and NFL reporter at USA Today, Jori Epstein, is conducting more interviews over the phone than usual, and expects that to multiply in the coming months. Ordinarily, she would then be working out of The Star in Frisco.
“I anticipate social distancing affecting football season in some significant way as the time markers are ahead of us where it will be a drastic difference,” said Epstein. Working from home is not so foreign to her as she is USA Today’s only Dallas-based reporter. Because the NFL will conduct its draft, and the season’s future is unsure, Epstein still has much to write about.
“I’m grateful our readers are reading, now with more time I imagine, but I wonder how long will that last and at what point does it feel like I’m writing about a video game rather than real life,” she said. “We seem so far away from a world where tens of thousands are going to crowd into close quarters to watch sports.”
Dallas native Talia Richman, city hall reporter for the Baltimore Sun, was gearing up for her city’s mayoral primary race, with more than two dozen candidates, originally set for April 28. Postponed to June 2, the majority of ballots will be submitted by mail.
“I’m used to meeting with and observing those I’m writing about and doing man-on-the-street interviews and now almost everything, save for the press conferences, is by phone and social media,” said Richman. “I’m absolutely limiting my time in the outside world and I’m doing that as this important race has been turned upside down.”
Finding stories in the midst of COVID-19, that would never otherwise appear, twice last week Richman became part of a story. First, she covered an impromptu wedding, becoming one of the nuptial’s witnesses when the bride, a resident physician who knew her summer wedding plans had to be readjusted, had an attending (and ordained) physician perform the ceremony. Everything about the celebration changed, except what mattered most, the couple at its core.
Joining Jews across the world in answering “why is this night different from all others,” during the Passover Seder, Richman Zoom’ed along with the family of a subject of a previous story she’d written. “I became one of the ‘Brady Bunch’ members of their ‘Zoom’ family, before making the ‘short commute’ to another browser to join my own.”
A news reporter on The Washington Post’s financial desk, Dallas native Rachel Siegel is now filing stories from her apartment in Washington, D.C. Relying on email and Zoom calls to stay connected, Siegel is writing stories that she is having trouble wrapping her head around: those of health care workers preparing wills and making funeral plans in case they’re infected while caring for patients.
“I’m often reporting as quickly as possible on issues that are totally new to me, from stock markets to global trade to economic policy to CEOs behaving badly. It didn’t take long to realize that coronavirus coverage would be especially difficult to keep up with,” said Siegel, whose first byline appeared in the Texas Jewish Post in 2008. Her first COVID-19 story, Jan. 27, reported the steep drop global stock markets had taken with investors worrying about coronavirus spreading beyond China. At that point, the disease had infected 2,800 people in China, killing 82.
“I’ve had a hard time making sense of the enormity of it all while figuring out how to channel my own sadness and grief in a way that is productive for my reporting,” said Siegel, who believes that as scores of media outlets have cut back reporters and production when the need for news has never been more acute.
In an April 13 article, highlighting the Triple R Pawn shop in Arkansas, remaining open to help its community, Siegel was drawn to those who hadn’t benefited from prosperity in the past, and who are now managing significant economic limitations even more. “I am reminded of why I wanted to become a journalist in the first place: to give voices to people shoved to the margins.”
Fink is reminded always of CBS’ tagline. “We’re all in this together,” he said, a spirit echoed by all included in this story, “and that definitely speaks to the headlines we are all living.”
By Deb Silverthorn