(CBS4) – Ask a journalist what they love about their job, and one thing they’ll tell you is that every day offers a fresh start. We work hard, finish our reporting on deadline, then come in the next day and start all over again. If we’ve done a great job at the end of the day, the next day is an opportunity to build on success. If the day didn’t go well, tomorrow is an opportunity to redeem ourselves and lift our spirits. That aspect of our job is one of the reasons why our current environment is so challenging – we’ve got homework now. When we finish our reporting, our minds turn to the many things we need to consider to do this work tomorrow – and that can sometimes make it feel like one, never-ending day.
While this is certainly a challenge, there are also clear benefits to this homework: we’re learning. We’re getting the job done today, while gaining valuable experience that will change how we do our jobs in the future. We’re adapting to new workflows, learning new technologies, discovering new ways to communicate with colleagues, testing innovative ways to do our newsgathering and conduct interviews, and considering how to do our jobs while staying safe and healthy. These are all important lessons that we might apply to our work when things return to “normal.”
For me, I’ve been reminded not to “typecast” the members of our team. Some of the best ideas, and the best work, have come from people operating totally outside their normal work group. In the future, when I need to solve a problem, I’ll remember to seek input from a wider cross section of the team. I’ve also observed that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I’ve seen this team rise to every challenge and – even when seemingly impossible – develop a solution. I’ve always embraced innovation but in the future I’ll be even less reluctant to attempt new things having seen our team adapt and execute so quickly, at such a high level. And finally, I have felt the importance of our personal connections. I’ve enjoyed meeting spouses, partners, kids and pets on Zoom calls, but I miss seeing my colleagues in person. I’ll never take that for granted again.
I asked some of my co-workers to share their experiences. Some are professional lessons on how to do a job, others are things we’ve learned about ourselves, or insights we’ve learned about our audience and how we can best serve them. I’d like to share some of their thoughts with you, because I think it speaks to their commitment to this work, but also because many of you in different professions have had similar experiences – and we can all learn from each other (and perhaps share a laugh as well).
Kristine Strain, Assistant News Director
“I’ve learned that journalism matters and we matter most when we are accurate, thoughtful, and on the platforms when people need us. I had begun to think after 26 years in this business maybe we were not as relevant as we once were. But after answering the hundreds of calls to the newsroom and reading thousands of emails I know we are helping people by empowering them with information that will save lives. The way our team has adapted to new technology and new workflow has made me so incredibly proud. There are days when a photographer and a reporter never see each other all due to the technology they learned in an instant. The reporter records Zoom interviews at their house, sends them to the photographer on the other side of the city and from there the editing magic begins.
Great leaders lean-in during times like this, and I work with great leaders. Not one of us has retreated — we have all rushed in. It is ok to be vulnerable. I used to think great leadership meant never let them see you sweat. We have all been sweating and even crying and it has only made the team stronger to know we are all in this.”
Jennifer McRae, Web Producer
“One thing I discovered about myself is how much I rely on non-verbal communication. I’m definitely always looking for cues or trying to “read the room” in certain circumstances and I find with Teams, instant messaging or even Zoom calls, those non-verbal cues just aren’t there. I’ve tried to become very succinct in my workflow since I started working from home a month ago, and rely more on myself when it comes to making a judgement call or if I need another opinion, I reach out directly.”
Karen Leigh, News Anchor
“For me, what comes to mind is how impressed I am that our organization could move so quickly to ‘gather, share and adapt’ from wherever we happened to be. Personally – the only struggle I’ve encountered is the daily acceptance of ‘not going in to work.’ When you’ve done this, (gone into work) your entire adult life, the stay-at-home order feels so foreign.
However, viewers have shared with me how much they enjoy my home segment simply for how it makes them feel watching it. Relaxed, safe, comforted. Like it’s all going to be okay. That makes it all worth it.”
Rick Sallinger, Reporter
“Take everything you have done for years, suddenly stop doing it that way, learn something new. That’s how it’s been. Some of it has been better. Instead of fighting traffic to get into work, we meet online. A few weeks ago I had never heard of Zoom. Now it’s my new best friend. We are having our meetings on Zoom and I conduct many of my interviews on Zoom. The best feature is that I can record the interviews and email them to the photographer/editor. I wish I had invented the app or at least bought stock in it.”
Drew Sidener, Creative Services Director
“I think the thing that I will take away from this experience is one of irony. It’s ironic that being kept apart from the station and my team has forced me to work harder to connect to them. I think it’s too easy to equate proximity with intimacy. I’ve tried to touch base with each of my team to check in on not just their progress for projects, but how they’re feeling and their respective circumstances. I’ve learned the importance of self-starting, of translating my thoughts and feelings into action items. How do I feel as part of my community? What are my fears, concerns, and worries? Chances are, my friends, family, and neighbors are feeling those same things. The main difference is I can write and produce a spot to answer those fears, to bring comfort to my neighbors, and to reveal truths in perhaps the greatest shared experience of all time. I’ve learned there is no replacement for a truly outstanding IT team. I’ve learned there are no obstacles to creativity, and no bounds to the problem-solving skills of a focused team. I’ve learned more about my co-workers being apart than I did in 2½ years in the building.”
Tori Mason, Reporter
“I’ve never gotten so many messages/calls from family, friends and strangers asking me about what’s happening in our world. People who never asked for news from me before, or even acknowledged me in years, were trusting me to give them information. It’s dark, but it oddly filled a void that’s been empty … reaching somebody through journalism. It made tracking audio in my closet feel less ridiculous. It made logging sound in a cramped live truck outside the station more bearable. It made my days feel more meaningful.
— Tori Mason (@ToriMasonTV) April 2, 2020
It reminded me that all of our work, even if it’s not incredible, is still important.”
Eric Christensen, Managing Editor/Sports
“I’ve learned or at least was reminded to never underestimate the people that make up CBS4. The process of anchoring, editing and producing from home seemed like a Herculean task. However watching the dedication of the many people who were instrumental in getting our “remote work stations” up and running in a short period of time was impressive. They didn’t blink and just went to work. So I was reminded no matter what hurdles or challenges we may face, we have the right people in place to tackle those situations. On a lighter note, I’ve also learned, while working from home, that I almost enjoy watching old golf tournaments like the 2019 Masters or the 2016 Ryder Cup almost as much as I did when they originally happened.”
Kerry O’Conner, CBS4 This Morning Producer
“This experience has taught me to embrace social media and recognize how it can bring to light some incredible stories. It can also easily be used as an interview platform. I saw a Denver artist’s page shared on Instagram, as he was creating a really incredible new mural on Colfax Avenue featuring a nurse with boxing gloves and wings. I direct messaged him about his project and we had a great conversation. He sent me photos and video that I turned into a nice story for our morning show the following day.
People are using social media more now than ever and it’s proving to be an effective way to communicate with sources quickly and share information in a way that’s just as meaningful as person-to-person. I’ve also realized how dangerous it is working from home with my own coffeepot so close by. Enough caffeine really can give you the jitters.”
Chris Spears, Meteorologist
“Through this entire process, I have yet to hear a single person complain or have a negative attitude. Everyone is just coming together and making it happen. The level of creativity and the amount of ideas flowing forth during all of the Zoom calls are off the charts. I truly commend everyone and love hearing all the conversations each time I attend a Zoom meeting. Though I am mostly a silent spectator, I so appreciate being able to listen. It’s my lifeline to the station these days.”
Mark Neitro, Photojournalist
“Surreal is the only word I can think of to describe covering the news during COVID-19. Not only do you have to adapt to new situations instantly, but also have to remember to do it safely while working with limited resources.
— Mark Neitro (@CBS4Mark) April 9, 2020
I try to maintain a safe distance from everyone outside when I’m covering a story. But, I’ve noticed quite a few people just walk close to us without paying attention to social distancing. Overall, it’s made me a lot more conscious of the space around me and I feel like my head is always on a swivel when I’m out in public.”
Michael Spencer, Sports Anchor
“During this time I’ve been reminded just how many talented people we have working at CBS4. As we have adjusted to new workflows everyone has been asked to do more, and has done so without hesitation. Sports photographers are shooting news, producers have assumed new roles working with anchors who are on-remote, and our production crew and IT departments have added to their duties in order to help us accomplish the wide-ranging daily tasks we have in addition to our daily newscasts.
Our new workflow has provided many challenges, but our entire team has risen to meet them in hopes of providing an informative, and in the case of sports, entertaining product during this difficult time.”
Ben Warwick, Senior Assignment Editor
“I will definitely take some lessons from this “new normal.” The biggest is how much this business is about our viewers. I have taken so many calls over the last few weeks. Some have just had to air their grievances, and I just let them say their piece and thank them for watching and taking the time to call. But many have been people who are scared. Or alone. Or honestly just need someone to listen. I’m not perfect in this in any sense, but every time the phone rings, regardless of how busy things are or what news is breaking in that moment, and I try to take a breath and think about who is on that other line. One woman called here last week in tears because she was living alone in a small town on the Eastern Plains, her husband having just recently passed away, and she was scared of being alone and unsure of how she was going to get groceries. She didn’t have internet access. I spent 10 minutes or so helping her find phone numbers of resources that could help her. That moment really drove home for me just how many people are affected.
Kathy Walsh, Anchor & Reporter
“These weeks are challenging. The author, Stephen King, calls it “gnawing anxiety.” I hope it subsides as we get to a new version of normal.
That said, I have learned, once again, that together we can do anything.”
Jesse Sarles, Web Manager
“The digital analytics successes we’ve seen in the past month reinforce the fact that many, many Coloradans rely on CBS4 at critical times on air and online, and we will continue to push hard to keep them informed. I am trying my best to “roll with the punches” every day here in my family room office-ish setup. But in the big picture, this setup is just not the same as being physically present in a fast paced newsroom environment. I can’t wait for the day I that I can get back to my desk with its 3 big monitors and have in-person conversations with all of the co-workers I respect so much.”
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Parker King, CBSN Denver Producer
“I think the biggest takeaway for me is how important communicating is. I think many of us took the exchanges in the newsroom for granted. Important information was exchanged just by getting up and walking over to someone’s desk. Now, that’s been taken away from us. Luckily, we work with an organized team that’s committed to our viewers. This newsroom is working hard to find solutions and make sure we all know what’s going on so we can better serve Colorado.”
Jamie Leary, Reporter
“What I have found most incredible is the willingness of different agencies to adapt and work alongside the media. While some agencies are still hard to get answers from, others have been more open and honest than expected. Hospitals have shown us behind the scenes, trusted our cameras with patient privacy and allowed frontline workers to speak freely, oftentimes about very grim subjects.
It feels like we are all working together for a common goal. As a journalist, building a relationship with the community you live in is one of the most important parts of the job. The relationships formed over the last five weeks will last a lifetime.”
I’ll conclude with this personal observation. A great boss once told me, “You’ll never really know what kind of team you’ve got until you see how they respond to a crisis.” This is a crisis unlike any I’ve experienced, and it is unrelenting — testing this team day after day. While I’ve learned many lessons through this experience — the most important lesson I learn, every single day, is that we’ve got a helluva team here at CBS4.