COVID-19 is Changing Where Journalists Work, but Not Why They Work

Thanks to COVID-19, although many professional sports leagues have resumed play, in many cases the broadcasters are calling the game action from miles away.

For NASCAR, only the pit reporters are live on the scene. The announcers are calling the action from Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ditto for Major League Baseball where national broadcasters are in remote studios watching the game on a monitor just like the fans.

The ability to call games in real-time from remote locations is both a testament to the technology as well as a reminder that we are not in normal times.

During the time of COVID-19 many journalists have been broadcasting from their kitchens using plants and fruit as props. I can neither confirm nor deny that I grew this onion specifically for that purpose
Photo R. Anderson

Throughout my career as a journalist, I have interviewed people in person, and I have interviewed people remotely. The bulk of my story assignments involved actually being at the game, or the city council meeting, to get a first hand eyewitness account of the action.

Each rule begets exceptions, so while I always tried to be as they say “in the room where it happened,” there were times when a coach would call me with results of an out of town ballgame to ensure it was covered.

Although, I would often write stories at my desk after a game, never once did I think, “You know what, I think I will just cover the whole game from right here.” Come to think of it, I wrote an award-winning story about a distemper outbreak without ever leaving my desk, so maybe there is something to be said for passive reporting.

After being mostly confined to the Gigaplex for the past five months, I can see a certain appeal to working from home, and consider myself extremely lucky to be able to do that.

I am far from the only journalist who has found themselves home bound, and having to modify their reporting techniques to include more WebEx interviews and video calls. Thanks to COVID-19, not only are journalists needing to change how they gather facts for a story, we are now getting an inside look at where those facts are being gathered.

As a result of the broadcast from home trend, where live from the studio, becomes live from fill in the blank, I have now seen Dan Rather’s study, and Bob Costas’ kitchen.

Growing up, I had always envisioned I would see those two places as an invited guest. In my mind, Dan, Bob, and I would be potluck pals as they bestowed their vast wisdom on a much younger colleague. Sadly, that dream has yet to come true but hope springs eternal.

Bob and Dan are far from the only people who have let viewers into their homes. For a while, the late-night talk shows of Jimmy Fallon, Conan O’Brien, Steven Colbert, Seth Myers and Jimmy Kimmel were filmed from their respective homes.

A few weeks back I started to ponder what my background would be if I got the call to provide my insight on a national television outlet, or, you know, if Dan Rather and Bob Costas invited me to a virtual potluck.
Photo R. Anderson

While I hate that it took a pandemic for it to happen, I have enjoyed the peek inside the homes of journalists, and other people on television.

A personal favorite viewing experience was the one night that Anderson Cooper broadcast his show from what looked like a rich mahogany study one would find in the pages of Agatha Christie, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The only thing missing was a smoking jacket and the need for either Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot to solve a whodunit case.

Anderson Cooper’s awesome (Gigaplex goals) home studio aside, the backgrounds for most people seem to fall under some main categories.

There are the shots of people in their dens in front of a wall of books.

There are people broadcasting from their kitchens with either flowers or bowls of fruit as props behind them.

There are even some people who utilize both flowers and fruit.

Another popular background is a roaring fire.

And of course, who can forget the wall of accomplishments, or a subtlety placed Emmy award casually shining in the background technique?

With so many backgrounds to choose from, and lots of time on my hands, a few weeks back I started to ponder what my background would be if I got the call to provide my insight on a national television outlet, or, you know, if Dan, Bob and I decide to have a virtual potluck.

The fireplace background technique was immediately eliminated. While there is a fireplace in the Gigaplex, I have never used it. In Texas it is hardly ever “fireplace weather.”

The “oh hey there, I am just chilling here in my kitchen with a pineapple while my sourdough starter rests” approach was also ruled out since as much as I love a good still life, a) the Gigaplex kitchen is on the smaller side, b) really, a kitchen? and c) I do not have a pineapple, or sunflowers handy.

While I hate that it took a pandemic for it to happen, I have enjoyed the peek inside the homes of journalists and other people on television. It inspired me to look at what my own background style would be. I call this example, space is messy.
Photo R. Anderson

So, that led me to hone in on the wall of books background idea. When I was growing up, my parents had a den that had floor to ceiling bookshelves on two walls and rough cedar planks on the other two walls.

To this day, one of my biggest Gigaplex goals is recreating that room. Although, after seeing Anderson Cooper’s den I may need to up my game.

While I do not yet have a single room for all of my books, I do have several walls in several rooms filled with bookshelves. So, the key became deciding which wall to use as my base of broadcasting operations.

There are two types of wall of book displays that have been featured during pandemic protocol. There are the anal-retentive displays where the books are likely alphabetized, and arranged by color, size, or other design element. The second type is the messy lived in book look.

There are two types of wall of book displays that have been featured during pandemic protocol. There are the anal-retentive displays where the books are likely alphabetized and arranged by color, size, or other design element. The second type is the messy lived in book look. My design style is lived in and messy
Photo R. Anderson

Here at the Gigaplex I totally embrace the messy book approach. So, as part of my background experiment I set a ground rule that the bookshelf would be unmodified to reflect the true reality, versus spending hours arranging certain books so that they looked casually asunder, and not like they had been placed there on purpose.

Of course, with my books arranged by subject in various rooms, the trick became what type of book would I highlight?

Part of the fun of the book background is pausing the television and trying to read the titles of the books to see what other people are reading. One reporter’s book shelf even inspired me to order one of the books I saw.

My choices for book background were narrowed down to space books, sports books, and history/political science books. I left out my shelf of journalism books for the most part based on the bookshelf location. I also ruled out the book shelves of mysteries, science fiction, Ian Fleming, and pretty much all fiction books.

It is not that I am ashamed for people to see which books I have in those categories, it is just that those book shelves are located in the Gigaplex sleeping chamber.

The Gigaplex sleeping chamber was ground ruled out as a suitable background room based on poor lighting and the fact that I really don’t like to make my bed. Although I have seen a few people reporting live from their bedrooms.

So, with the criteria set for the bookish background photo shoot I went from shelf to shelf trying to decide which one would look best.

Ultimately, I decided that I could use two locations depending on which topic I was being asked to speak about. For sports related topics, I would go with my sports book background to show my vast knowledge of sport.

For harder hitting stories, my space books background would be chosen in order to give off that certain sumpin sumpin.

So, now that I know what background to use, I guess I will just go back to waiting for that call from a colleague needing my unique take on the news of the day.

Of course, I could also use the background for the podcast I am developing, but that is a story for another day.

COVID-19 has caused journalists to change how they gather and report the news in many cases. It has not however, changed the commitment to getting the facts out where they are needed; even if that means reporting from their kitchen in front of some sunflowers and a pineapple like a 21st century Vincent van Gogh.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some books to dust and I need to pick a dish to bring to the potluck with Dan and Bob.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

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