Covering the coronavirus pandemic is unique because it breaks the fourth wall

Covering the coronavirus pandemic is unique because it breaks the fourth wall

Normally, a reporter would be expected to recuse themselves from a story that put their family in danger. But in a pandemic, there is no choice.

Lately, it seems that a full day of work can occur between about 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.

A whole morning of relatively organized preparation can be blown up in that period of time, with government announcements and data releases all coming out in one deluge of new information after another. Wednesday, for example, we had an extension of the school closure, a ban on reusable shopping bags and data on more than 600 more positive tests released within that window of time. (Oh, and two conference calls, too)

On any normal day, each of those could be a top story, probably with sidebars. Lately, however, it’s just about average.

We’ve even rearranged schedules on our team in part to help handle the afternoon flood.

Through it all, I’ve been very proud of my work and that of my team — and the audience has responded in a big way. The available data shows that we have consistently led the market on social media and, based on the incredible readership, I would imagine we can expect to see similar success when competitive data is eventually released.

But people are tired. I am tired.

As an industry we’ve asked folks to change schedules, create studios or offices in their homes, abandon old routines and learn new technical skills without the benefit of being close to their tutors, managers or friends.

My makeshift home office

Meanwhile, we are also living as citizens and neighbors under the new restrictions place upon all of our lives. Many of our usual reprieves from the stress of disaster coverage, like a visit with friends or a strenuous workout at the gym, are no longer accessible.

The closest comparison I can make is the Waldo Canyon Fire when my coworkers’ homes were threatened and destroyed. But that danger lasted only one or two nights and affected only a small number of our teammates. This virus is a persistent, lingering threat that stalks all of us.

Cameras today feel more like mirrors and microphones like echos.

I produced stories and social content about new precautions being taken at grocery stores, then had to go to a store and experience it for myself.

This never happens at a trial, crime scene or fire. All those normal subjects of daily news happen to someone else, but this is simultaneously happening to us, too.

I’ve seen variations on two jokes floating around with my journalism friends to describe how the coverage has felt:

What a year this week has been

I’ve now lived through 5 decades: The 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s and March.

I’m looking for lessons in this, but it can be hard to see the shape of the ocean while you’re sailing in the middle of it.

I can say that I’m glad that I’ve long thought about projects like a newsroom in a backpack (as in 2010 and 2015) but never expected to see it played out on such a wide scale so quickly.

I am also glad for the experience of past disasters and tragedies, as terrible as they were, because the skills learned at those times can be called upon now.

Family support and team cohesion have also been crucial to our success so far.

I’ve struggled to find an appropriate ending for this reflective post, but I think it may be too soon to find the moral of this story. We are still sailing across the ocean and cannot know what storms might blow in during the rest of the trip.