DENVER (CBS4) – As “starting a new job” stories go, Gabrielle Cox has a doozy. She had been working in Colorado Springs and accepted a position here at CBS4 as producer of our 6 p.m. newscast. On her first day in the newsroom, Colorado reported its first case of coronavirus. Within days, there were stay-at-home orders and “work-from-home” plans. Gabrielle hadn’t even moved to Denver yet. She finally moved into her new home last weekend.
“It’s been interesting, because I’m missing a lot of furniture. So I’m waiting for stores to open up.”
Parker King is also missing some furniture. She was working in Richmond, Virginia, and accepted a job as producer for CBSN Denver about a month before the pandemic.
“I haven’t gotten a kitchen table yet,” Parker told me. “I’ve got a little makeshift desk that works for now.”
Carel Lajara has a kitchen table, but is really looking forward to making some new friends. She’s from Miami and arrived in Denver for a newscast producer job during a blizzard, thinking that would be the biggest shock to overcome. Then the pandemic.
“I moved somewhere so different, I was already experiencing a big change. And then …”
If you’ve ever moved to a new city, you know it brings a mix of anxiety and excitement. Anxiety over finding a place to live, moving your things, learning your way around, starting a new job and meeting new co-workers. Excitement over exploring a new city or state, trying new restaurants, meeting new friends. Now imagine mixing all of that anxiety and excitement with the fear and unknowns of a pandemic — suddenly faced with a lockdown just as you arrive in your new city. For the three CBS4 journalists, this was their reality. I hired Gabrielle, Parker and Carel, but since they arrived shortly before the pandemic I’ve barely had time to touch base with them. Typical orientation and training plans were out the window. So this week I spent time talking with each of them about what it’s been like to adapt to this “new normal” in a new job, in a new city. I also asked each of them to take a selfie in a location that they’re looking forward to visiting when restrictions are lifted. (You’ll see those throughout the article.)
Carel Lajara never imagined she would be working in Denver in the first place. She was on the job in Gainesville, Florida, and saw one of my tweets seeking a newscast producer. She says she didn’t respond at first.
“I thought, ‘Nah. I’m not going to Denver. First of all, it snows there.'”
After some more thought, she decided to take a chance. And after visiting Denver for a job interview, she was hooked. Carel loves the city but can’t wait to actually experience it.
“I’m really just looking forward to going out. Eating. Chilling. I just moved here, so I have to meet people!”
She says she really wants to go to a Rockies game, and visit the mountains but says, “I feel like just even normal life I’m missing. I’m not even thinking about the big things I want to do.” Carel is thinking about her family in Florida, telling me, “This is the longest I’ve gone in my life without seeing my family.” They connect by via video calls but it’s obviously not the same. Then I ask a dumb question, “Will you be excited to finally see each other again?” Like any great news producer, she replies directly. “Well, duh. It’s my family.”
At work, Carel says she’s fortunate to work with a tight knit group on CBS4 This Morning. They get to talk a lot during the week, but misses hanging out with them on weekends. She says that’s been difficult, but it’s also making her a stronger person and producer.
“I have to learn to live by myself without doing the normal things I do,” she told me. “I feel like it’s making me pretty tough.”
Parker King knows the feeling. Like Carel, she also took a big chance by moving across the country for a job in Denver.
“When this opportunity came up I didn’t want to pass it up. I’ve heard such great things about Denver and about Colorado.”
She went to college in South Carolina and was working in Virginia, not far from her family. Trips planned for April and May to see each other had to be canceled, but they recently started doing a Zoom call every Tuesday night to stay in touch.
“This is probably the most I’ve talked to my family, consistently!” She says she also calls her grandparents often, and has a trivia night every week with friends from college.
Still, Parker is ready to finally explore her new hometown. It’s a strange feeling — living in a city for three months, but never experiencing it.
“I’m still very gung ho about being out here and wanting to experience as much as I can.”
She’s a big sports fan and can’t wait to go to the games.
“I’ve never been in a city that has all the pro sports.”
She’s also excited to sample the patio scene.
“I’ve heard so much about RiNo and the different breweries. I’d love to go spend a Saturday afternoon on a sunny day on a porch drinking a good local beer.”
Parker is also anxious to “finally get to see the newsroom bustling again.” She says, “It was all so fast. I got here, we launched CBSN Denver and the pandemic started. It was all these things happening at once. I don’t know if I really processed all of it.” She looks forward to “shouting across the newsroom” again and getting to know co-workers that she’s barely met.
“I haven’t been able to get to know a lot of the reporters and photographers very well. I was just learning names and all of a sudden they’re gone.”
It’s clear Parker misses the buzz and camaraderie of the newsroom, so I close by asking her if there’s anything she likes about working from home a few days during the week. “I’ve been able to get more laundry done. So that’s been a plus!”
Gabrielle Cox, now two months on the job, also misses that newsroom energy.
“I need a lot of noise and activity to be able to concentrate when I work, so the newsroom is a perfect environment for me.”
She knows these last several weeks would have been spent getting to know her colleagues at CBS4 but now, “There’s just not really anyone here to talk to and get to know.” She adds, “When you’re working in a newsroom you have to be IN IT. So being away from it is difficult to say the least. Everyone’s doing their best but it’s definitely been challenging.”
Exploring her new city has also been challenging. Colorado is home for Gabrielle, but she had been working in Colorado Springs as an executive producer, so she was looking forward to enjoying Denver.
“We were going to see Lion King at the DCPA for my brother’s birthday at the end of this month and now we can’t. I have tickets to see Hamilton in August and I’m really hoping that doesn’t get canceled.”
She shares a sentiment expressed by both Carel and Parker that it’s the simple things she misses the most.
“I really just miss being with friends. It’s so simple, but when something like this happens you really value that time.”
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These days, Gabrielle finds energy in her purpose. She knows the value of this work, “It’s re-energized me because in this environment information is so important. To be able to provide that every day is an important service.” She also knows the value of work, in general, during a time when so many are losing jobs.
“I’m grateful I have been able to come to work. There are so many people I know who haven’t been able to go to work, earn a living, so I’m extremely grateful to have that.”
She closes with a thought shared by all of us, no matter how long we’ve been on the job at CBS4.
“This is a big newsroom,” she says, “So when it’s empty, it’s felt. You need that buzz. A newsroom needs that energy.”
I’m confident that newsroom buzz will return. When it does, a more traditional welcome for these three remarkable news producers. And perhaps exploring Colorado after these long lockdown weeks will make them appreciate their new home state even more. At the very least, they’ll have a heck of a “starting a new job” story.