In age of social distancing, TV news works to stay connected

Every day we find new ways in which the coronavirus has turned the world upside down. Today, BoomerCafé co-founder and publisher David Henderson, himself a former correspondent for CBS News, writes about TV news, and how its people have had to adapt.

Television news operations across the United States and around the world are stretched to the limits of staffing, technology, and accuracy as they work to cover just one story unprecedented in its impact on baby boomers, and on every generation younger and older: coronavirus. In many cases, these challenges have led to shrewd solutions.

In fact, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably seen some of them on the air without quite knowing, at the outset anyway, exactly what you were seeing. Anchors, reporters, correspondents for the networks, they looked like they were more “on-couch” than on-scene. Or, on-desk, on dining table, on fireplace hearth.

Social Distancing in the news industry: A TV news anchorman for a local station in Seattle has set up a studio at home… in his bedroom.

Take, for example, this TV news anchorman in Seattle. With strict social distancing rules in place at his station, he’s live on the air… from his bedroom! A giant mural photo of the newsroom is taped to the wall behind him… a flat screen TV sits on his dresser to show news clips and graphics… and he reads from his laptop sitting on a music stand. The camera? It’s a smartphone mounted inside a special “halo” light.

The setup might seem a bit rudimentary and you might expect the final result on the air to look like a broadcast from the early days of television, but today— aside from some very homey backdrops that give away the secret— it’s hard to tell the difference, given the quality of technology.

A challenge like none other in the 68 year history of NBC’s Today Show… all due to a pandemic — Savannah Guthrie and Al Roker broadcast from their homes while Hoda Kotb sits alone in the studio.

In fact we’re seeing it all across America, with anchors and reporters on the air from their homes or any other places that work. CNN’s Anderson Cooper is broadcasting from an empty car showroom on 54th Street on New York’s West Side. A camera and all the technical gear he needs is there at his position except for one thing: anyone else! At the improvised anchor desk, Cooper is alone. A couple of technicians and support staff keep their “social distance,” including from each other.

At ABC News, although the network still wants its four London-based correspondents to report from the scene when it’s safe, all four also now have iPhones set up in their homes, when it’s not.

PBS NewsHour correspondent William Brangham reports on the coronavirus pandemic from his home.

In “normal times,” a newsroom is a bustling, crowded, and usually noisy place teeming with constant deadlines and expectations. No so today. Some newsrooms, like the massive CBS News Broadcast Center in New York, are closed after employees tested positive for coronavirus.

In a situation like that, everyone, it seems, has to “call it in.”

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