By Emilie Lutostanski • Local News Resource Center
In local news since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, producers have grappled with limited resources to telecommute and anchors struggled to care for their children during live newscasts.
Journalist Marcus Harun highlights these challenges and subsequent innovations in his recently released 17-minute documentary, Essential Journalists: How Coronavirus Changed TV News.
Harun, a national news producer, remotely interviewed dozens of journalists from across the country about how the coronavirus impacted their jobs and the frightening reality of being regularly exposed to the virus while reporting vital information to the public. The film highlights how mask-clad reporters are conducting interviews to tell their communities’ stories while worrying about what illness they may bring back to their families.
“As I worked on the documentary it became clear that it was individual reporters who were innovating at levels we have never seen before,” Harun said. “There is no rulebook from corporate on how to report in the middle of a pandemic. So I found individual journalists creating new ways to connect with sources, new ways to use technology, and new ways to tell stories all on their own. They used random items they found in the house and made it possible to set up studios in their kitchens. They also shared ideas with other reporters at other stations because everyone across the U.S. was in the same boat.”
For example, news anchor and Arizona State University grad student Marcella Baietto fashioned a makeshift at-home teleprompter and shared the DIY video of how she did it in a tweet that went viral among journalists.
Attention all reporters/anchors who are working from home!! 🔊 🔊 🔊
Here’s a quick tutorial on how I made my at home teleprompter.
It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done. Hope this helps! pic.twitter.com/IKJGdyZ0w8
— Marcella Baietto (@MarcellaBaietto) March 27, 2020
“Here’s a student who identified a problem that virtually every broadcast journalist in the country had, which was … no prompter,” said Frank Mungeam, interviewed in the documentary while teaching news innovation at the ASU Cronkite School.
“‘Essential Journalists’ documents the remarkable adaptations made by broadcasters to keep serving their communities during a pandemic,” said Mungeam, now chief innovation officer at Local Media Association. “And it humanizes these journalists and the risks they’ve faced daily as they do the essential work of informing the public.”
The documentary shows how some adaptive techniques and behaviors might continue after social distancing is no longer required.
“Some of the pre-pandemic norms will return, but journalists have also learned a lot in 2020 that will leave a mark for years to come. Reporters displayed remarkable problem-solving skills – and some of the solutions will stick,” Harun said. “Skype and FaceTime interviews have made it easier to connect with people in an instant and get them on television. Webcam interviews will likely continue when necessary in the future. Some flexibility should persist – does everyone need to be physically together in the building for the morning meeting? There may be a better use of time.”
While the documentary is about reporters doing the essential work of journalism during a pandemic, Harun said the film is for everyone.
“The pandemic impacts all people, and reporters told the stories of what people are going through. But people do not know the stories of the storytellers,” Harun said.