KDKA has closed down its newsroom to most reporters and producers to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Kathy Hostetter.

Editor’s note: Since this story first appeared, Postindustrial magazine has launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $8,000 to support its reporting during the pandemic. You may find more information here

KDKA news director Kathy Hostetter has more screens in her home office than you do: a TV screen, two laptops and her phone.

Ever since the TV station started alternating shifts of managers because of the coronavirus outbreak, she has been taking turns working from home — while balancing the rest of her life, which includes being a mom to her 12-year-old daughter.

“My husband works out of the home too,” she told me by email. “So all three of us are home today and have our separate office/tech setups … and we’re working in family time between all of this, too.”

Journalists worry about the same things as you, and yet all across the region, they are going to extraordinary lengths to get out news during the coronavirus crisis.

After two employees at CBS News in New York tested positive for Covid-19, the network shut down its headquarters newsroom for two days to deep clean the facilities. Broadcasts were moved from the building; the CBS station in Los Angeles anchored the news with reporters on the ground in New York.

Locally, TV newsrooms have told most staffers — including field reporters and photojournalists — to stay away from the stations. Thanks to digital communications, it’s possible for even many television people to work from almost anywhere.

At KDKA, TV crews come by the station only to handoff the backpacks they use to make cellular connections for filing stories.

“We are keeping crews out in the field and not having them come into the building,” Hostetter told me. “With all of the portable technology, this has been proven to be invaluable with response and gathering the story.”
Similarly, the station has shifted to solo-anchored newscasts to help with social distancing, and they are rotating anchors.
The only other people in the office are the assignment desk, a minimal operations team for studio production, two to three producers and one manager on duty. Everyone else works remotely, contributing content via almost every platform — email, file-sharing, bonded cellular, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype. 
“It’s all on the table,” she said. “I can’t speak enough about how great this newsroom has been in keeping viewers informed. They are ‘all in’ on how to help our audiences through this, and they’re leading by example.”
Terry O’Reilly, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting, the parent company for NPR station WESA and alternative music station WYEP, also shut down their offices to everyone except people on the air.

“Fortunately, a combination of good planning, solid technology and a dedicated staff has allowed us to make this change quickly and continue our broadcast,” he wrote in an email to supporters this week.

WESA sent an email to supporters showing how its employees are working from home.

The crazy thing is reporters don’t want to stay away. A media friend told me the journalists keep coming into work even when they’ve been given the option of staying home. These are people who are used to rushing at emergency situations to tell the full story, and it feels strange to be isolated from the newsroom.

KDKA’s Paul Martino spoke for a lot of journalists when he posted on Facebook about the need to work with his colleagues: “I’ve spent nearly 50 years hanging out in newsrooms. I love the action, the energy, the commotion. The excitement of breaking stories and deadlines. It’s hard to stay away.”

We hear you. The Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University (CMI) has shut down for now too. We’re working remotely, packaging podcasts for clients over the internet and scrambling to figure out video as well.

When we had to cancel our annual spring High School Media Day last week, we asked presenters to record video messages instead and those will start going out over Facebook and YouTube: KDKA meteorologist Mary Ours, a Point Park grad, lead the first session. Just because we can’t be together, doesn’t mean we can’t work together.

Working remotely, honestly, has been exhausting. It’s like taking your first online college class thinking it’s going to be a blow-off course, and then finding out it’s twice as much work.

Employees at The Incline, another media outlet in transition, have some insights for the rest of us: “We’ve worked remotely for the last year, so it’s business as usual for us,” its two employees Rossilynne Culgan and Colin Deppen wrote this week.

They offered some tips that I’m using at the CMI, like holding regular video chats with employees and making sure to step away from the computer. I’m still looking for advice on how to stop eating everything in our refrigerator during the day.

Also, does one have to get showered and dressed for every video meeting? Asking for a friend.

Comings & Goings

  • Several news outlets — PublicSource, NEXTpittsburgh, The Incline, Pittsburgh City Paper and Kidsburgh — collaborated this week to put together a resource with ways to help others during the crisis.
  • Table Magazine’s new owners are organizing a crowdfunded campaign for the Pittsburgh restaurant industry, which has been hurt by coronavirus closures. Many restaurant workers rely on gratuity and are often paid out nightly. The fund has raised more than $10,000 so far, but it has more than $28,000 in requests from people in need.
  • The Pittsburgh Catholic ceased publication and terminated all 11 of its employees on Thursday; the newspaper had been in operation for 175 years, since 1844, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • Trib Total Media laid off 24 employees on Friday, including 17 journalists mainly from sports and features. The company is combining its Greensburg and Tarentum newspapers into one Tribune-Review edition, and it will delay printing of weekly newspapers for four weeks, President and CEO Jennifer Bertetto told me.
  • Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and Pittsburgh City Paper both have ongoing campaigns asking readers to contribute money toward keeping them open.

The founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, Andy Conte writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments. You can find all of his columns here, and you may reach him at PittsburghPublicEditor@gmail.com

Andrew Conte, founding director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University, writes the On Media column at NEXTpittsburgh with support from The Heinz Endowments.