SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Media companies are following the same social distancing guidelines as other industries. But at a time when viewership is up and people are relying on the news more than ever, social distancing brings new challenges for newsrooms used to working as a team.
On air you may not notice much difference in KELOLAND News, but behind the scenes, it’s another story.
Long before the COVID-19 outbreak, KELOLAND Media Group already had a plan in place to continue with business in the event of a pandemic.
“We never thought we’d have to use it, but we’re glad we had it. We did a few updates to it when we heard about this in late February, but we’re ready to go and every department knows what to do.” KELOLAND Media Group Vice President and General Manager Jay Huizenga said.
The plan has changed as concerns have grown. For example, I was still working in the studio until just recently, when out of an abundance of caution, I began reporting from home.
From our sales department to our digital team, 80-percent of our staff is now working outside of the building. We use communication tools like Zoom meetings, where KELOLAND photojournalist Tory Stolen explains how he does his job from home.
“I haven’t really left my basement in over a week. I’ve just been getting video from everywhere else and people have been bringing me their video and I’ve been cutting it up and sending it out to air right here from my basement,” Photojournalist Tory Stolen said in a Zoom newsroom meeting.
Only about three people remain in the newsroom.
“It’s kind of eerie working in the newsroom because normally right now at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, this place would be bustling with reporters, producers, photographers, editors and right now, it’s basically a ghost town,” Don Jorgensen said.
However, we’re still bringing you five newscasts a day.
“You think about the work that goes into telling one story– the shooting, the videos, the writing,
We always did it right here– all of it. And now we’re doing it from multiple locations from our homes and we’re all trying to get used to that. But we’re making it work. We’re hitting the deadlines,” Jorgensen said.
“The amount of news we’re doing right now is unprecedented. And the amount of ways we’re doing news right now is unprecedented. But you know what, those who are in news– it’s in their blood and they get fired up to do this. So yes, it’s a lot of work and a lot of stress–but it’s part of their DNA,” Huizenga said.
While many people are able to work from home, there are still some jobs that have to be done in person. Our photojournalists are taking social distancing precautions with long microphone extensions and inside the studio we’re cleaning surfaces frequently.
“There’s certain people that need to be here to run the TV station and it takes physical appearances here to do that,” Huizenga said.
And we’re continuing to learn as we go along new ways to provide you with the best coverage online and on TV.
One thing engineers are working on is the ability to do live interviews in the switcher. We haven’t been able to do that before,” News Director Beth Jensen said in Zoom newsroom meeting.
“We’re a television station. The most important thing we have to do is make sure the viewers get the information they need to get through this and to stay safe and to stay home,” Huizenga said.
None of what broadcasters are doing today, with home studios, cell phone video and zoom interviews would have been possible even a decade ago.