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Gathering the facts in a pandemic: How local news has changed during the health crisis

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Posted at 11:14 AM, Jan 25, 2021

(WXYZ) — It's National News Literacy Week, a week to promote the important role journalism plays in society.

News literacy is the ability to determine the credibility of news and to use fact-based journalism to determine what to trust.

Related: The best ways to spot fake news on social media & help stop the spread of it

To kick off the week, we are showing you how WXYZ has been keeping the broadcasts going despite the challenges the pandemic has brought on.

You may not know this, but there are very few staff members working in the building.

Related: National News Literacy Week challenges public to test, improve news literacy skills

It’s no surprise the pandemic has changed the way we work. You may have noticed some of us working from home.

What you don’t see is all the ways we are trying to maintain professionalism like hiding the kids or pets.

We use tools like iPhones or GoPros to tell a story, but what hasn’t changed is the importance of quality journalism.

Instead of producers and directors in the control room or newsroom, you’ll find several empty chairs.

Kennan Oliphant is our Assistant News Director. He’s been in the business for nearly 20 years but the way we’ve been working these past ten months is a first for any veteran.

Instead of working inside the building, many are working from home.

“The newsroom used to have tons of people in here with conversations and scanners going," he said.

No longer face to face except when we see these faces via Zoom.

“Journalists like to be around each other, to riff off of each other to build on ideas," Oliphant added.

Every newsroom meeting is conducted on Zoom. Yve Jones is the Real-Time Desk Manager. She’s in charge of what we call the “heart of the newsroom.”

“All information comes through whether it’s via phone, email, text, what have you, and then we disseminate and give it out to our crews and to the public," Jones said.

Story ideas and assignments come in through scanners, phone calls, and emails. It then gets sent to producers, reporters, and the digital team.

“We are using a lot of phone calls text messages and just talking to each other through our messaging system via the computer," Jones added.

Instead of shouting information across the newsroom, we have several steps to take to pass it along.

“I never thought I would be working from home doing this job. I would never thought this could happen. I’m completely shocked and just in awe of what our IT department has been able to pull off," 5 p.m. Producer Tony Chiudoni said.

He's in charge of putting stories in order, writing when needed, and keeping the show on the tracks when it goes on air.

Chiudoni has a desktop, laptop, and TV screen — all taking over the guest bedroom. His wife works in the room next to him.

“I went from working overnights where I never saw my wife, to literally only seeing my wife," he said. "It’s a great thing, it’s a great thing. It’s quite the difference though.”

And they both have to balance life with their toddler Ricky.

“It’s very challenging and exhausting.”

Our IT department can’t help us with the work-life balance but they sprang into action once the shutdown happened.

“It was a bit of a shock in the beginning," IT Systems Administrator John Kaake said.

Kaake says getting the technology into homes is easier when our staff troubleshoots first.

“You’re having a problem? You’re having a problem? Yeah, yeah, but I already restarted my computer and then I did this and did this. So, they are already doing that. Oh you get the junior IT badge. We’ll tell you, there’s a lot of junior IT badges," he said.

One of the challenges - getting our meteorologists like Hally Vogel set up at home.

“You see this big giant green screen behind me, I had to push the toys and clutter aside and park it in my basement, get lighting set up and all the technology I need to actually put the weathercast on the air," she said.

And working out in the field is different for our crews too. Especially for pregnant reporter Kim Russell.

“I have no problem telling someone, ‘look, I don’t feel comfortable doing this because I’m pregnant and I don’t want to put my baby at risk or risk preterm labor because of COVID," she said.

Many press conferences and court cases have gone virtual. The reporter and photojournalist now travel separately for anything that requires crews to be in-person.

“There is a little bit of uncertainty of how not having your sidekick with you, how the day is going to go," Photographer Danny Stricker said.

When the pandemic shutdown sports our Brad Galli and Justin Rose focused on highlighting high school athletes in their senior salutes.

“We got a ton of feedback from people saying, ‘hey, my son, my daughter got their season canceled.’ That’s when we did ‘Senior Salutes’ in every single sportscast for nine months. We really felt a connection with people on a local level. Getting into each community and finding out which team was the heartbeat of that community and what people were looking forward to seeing and that was a real connection we felt, even though everything was via Zoom and everything was socially distant.”