Off Camera Header 2020

Broadcasters Use Social Distancing in the Fight Against COVID-19

By Joyce Mitchell
Sacramento Region Vice President

Epic. It’s most likely a once-in-a-lifetime experience as the world stands together trying to quash the spread of COVID-19, the deadly pandemic infecting millions of people worldwide.The number of cases and deaths are astounding. The hope is for a return to life as it was – but most likely with a new normal. And that includes TV personnel.

Social distancing is mandated in most places throughout the world to slow spread of the coronavirus. Television broadcasters are not excluded. In fact, they’re essential in carrying the message about what the virus is doing to people in different areas.

As broadcast journalists educate the public, they too, are doing their job to respect social distancing boundaries to protect themselves and others. In some cases, live trucks are being positioned outside of television stations for editing and feeding news stories. Only essential employees enter stations.

Others are working out of their cars. “This is my new normal,” said Fresno KFSN ABC 30 Photographer Richard Harmelink. “I used to edit my stories back at the station and sometimes in a live truck. But now, everything is done curbside in the back of a news car.”

Reporters in the field use microphones on poles to keep a safe six-foot distance. KGO’s Wayne Freedman is in the thick of reporting about COVID-19. He and others at San Francisco’s Channel 7 and stations throughout the San Francisco/Northern California region respect social distancing while doing their jobs.

Wayne Freedman with mic on boompole

A new trend developing during these challenging times includes the use of Facetime interviews. There are concerns that this may set a new standard for delivering TV news. “I believe Facetime interviews are a double-edged sword,” said Freedman. “We won’t need as many photographers in the field. But the negatives far outweigh the positives. Not as many photographers will be hired. And it becomes like a telephone interview, not being able to look that person in the eye while doing an interview. Nothing replaces the face-to-face in-person discussion.”

Incoming NATAS SF/NorCal Chapter President Randy Forsman directs newscasts at Sacramento’s KCRA Channel 3. He works with a skeleton crew these days and they all social distance. In addition, he wears a mask in the control room and while at the station.

Anchors also are doing their part, social distancing on set while also working out of their homes. Former Sacramento KCRA Anchor Kaity Tong who has been at WPIX in New York for years is now setup to anchor her weekend newscasts from a spare room in her apartment.

“This is a picture of the new reality we’re dealing with,” said Tong. “We’re coping with it and we’ll all get through this together.”

Kaity Tong on WPIX set

Kaity Tong social distancing at WPIX in New York

Kaity Tong's Home Studio

Kaity Tong’s Home Studio in Manhattan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As for Harmelink in Fresno, he believes this revamped system of news gathering may last. “I think when this is all said and done, news will look a lot different,” said Harmelink. “Hopefully for the better.”

Freedman is not so sure. “With facetime interviews, we are going the way of phoners,” said Freedman. “In a high definition medium, that takes the quality down several notches.” For now, Facetime is working, carrying the message during this pandemic. As for the future, the virus is holding the industry – and the world – hostage.

Chapter Governor Pamela Young from KHON2 keeps a close eye on the stark reality of Hawaii. Waikiki Beach is desolate but coronavirus warnings are not stopping tourists. A news crew captured this image – a sunbather getting a police citation. Most are going to tourists. Again, Hawaii broadcasters are working to keep their state safe, alerting beach-goers that they will pay a price. And the hope is – it’s only a ticket and not COVID-19.

During this pandemic, TV is showing and teaching while leading by example. Social distancing is strength. That’s how we will all get through this difficult time – together.

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