(CBS4) – “Put down the bow and arrow. Now, please.”
“But Mommy. MOMMY!”
It’s 12:45 p.m. and Karen Morfitt and I are scheduled to begin our Zoom interview. We’re delayed a bit, as Karen defends herself from a stealth attack by a three-year-old with a toy bow and arrow. It seems the perfect way to open an interview about how reporters are balancing personal and professional demands in today’s work-from-home environment due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Karen hasn’t technically started her shift, but she’s been on the clock since about 6:30 a.m. That’s when her son, Grayson, is up and full of energy. “He’s very into pancakes right now so we’re up pretty early making them,” she says. After breakfast, there are cartoons and activities. “The morning is filled with biking and bounce houses and playing superheroes.” Sometimes she has time for a workout. Sometimes not.
The goal is to have Grayson worn out so he’s ready for a nap by 12:30 p.m. When he goes down, Karen goes to work — researching stories and making calls to prepare for our 1:30 p.m. editorial meeting. That’s usually when I see Karen for the first time. Producers, anchors, reporters, assignment editors, photographers and others all gather to listen to the stories in progress for our early evening newscast and then pitch stories for the 10 p.m. news. Karen always has a great list of ideas, researched and ready to be produced for late news. During this meeting, it’s not unusual to get a cameo from Grayson — awake and ready to play. “At first I was embarrassed when it would happen, but I’ve had to get over that. It’s just part of life, and what we’re doing right now,” Karen says. One day last week, Karen suddenly had to leave the editorial meeting. “Grayson figured out how to turn on the garden hose and there was water and mud everywhere,” she says. “I told the group, sorry I have to go deal with this chaos right now.”
The afternoon meeting is over and Karen officially begins her work day. But that doesn’t mean the end of her parenting day. “It’s definitely different. I used to be Mom in the morning and then I was able to go to work. But now it’s all collided.” She says she loves the extra time at home with her husband and son, but she’s definitely realized “you can’t tell a 3-year-old that you’re at work when you’re sitting right next to him.” Karen says she and her husband often have to cover each other, “We’ll go back and forth. I’ll ask, ‘Can you play superhero for a minute while I take this call?’”
Most interviews are done via video conference right now, but many days require her to leave home to shoot a story or meet for an interview. “We try to stick to a schedule, but every day is not the same,” she says. During video conference interviews, her son will occasionally interrupt but Karen says it’s never been a problem. “A lot of people understand things have changed. So if he’s yelling ‘Mom!’ in the background of an interview, most people laugh and say ‘we’re in the same boat.’” She says reporting on the pandemic has made her appreciate the value of our work, “Because we’re all living this, it’s beneficial to telling these stories. It’s happening to me in daily life too.”
When Karen does leave for a story, she’ll meet photojournalist Mark Neitro at the location. They work together on the interview, then return to their homes. By the time Karen gets home, she says Mark has downloaded the video and sent it to her via email. She logs the video, writes the story then sends it off to executive producer Tom Merolla and producer Lauren Sklba for copy editing and they all work together until there’s a final draft. During much of this time, Grayson is right there beside Karen. “We gave him a toy keyboard and he pretends to type right along with me.” Then when it’s time to track her story, Karen grabs her iPhone and heads for the closet. “I get into my closet and cover myself with clothes to lessen the echo. I’ve noticed a big difference in audio quality between a full closet and an empty closet, which is something I never thought I would know. So now every night after writing, Grayson knows that Mom has to go into the closet to track her story.”
Karen then emails her audio track to Mark, who edits the story for the newscast. When it’s complete, they FaceTime together to watch the story and make final edits. Then another FaceTime call to watch the finished piece before feeding it into the station for air. Somewhere in there, she puts her son to bed. If she’s live in the 10 p.m. newscast, she’ll quickly get ready before leaving home around 9:30 p.m. “When most people are getting ready for bed, I’m putting on a full face of makeup and hot rollers for my hair.”
After her live report, it’s right back home. She’ll review her story after it’s been posted to our web site, checking the copy and the headline. And then, between about 11:15 p.m. and midnight, a little time to herself. “And that’s kinda the only time that, it’s just me.”
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Karen appreciates that so many other parents are also struggling with this balance right now. Like other parents, she says, “I used to have that separation that made it easier to go from mom to work. Now, between interviews, I’ll start dinner or give my son a bath.” Karen begins to tell me how they’re starting to get comfortable with this new life, “Every day we do it, it’s getting…”
“MOMMY! Will you blow up the bounce house?”
Grayson is ready to get outside for some fun, so we conclude the interview. Karen is optimistic, “There’s no real routine to the day, it’s always different. But we’re still figuring it out. We’re all starting to figure it out.”