‘Never really off the clock’: Bringing the newsroom home during COVID-19

‘Never really off the clock’: Bringing the newsroom home during COVID-19
Marc Davis closes his laptop in his one-bedroom apartment and turns on the television. His day at work is over, but his work mind hasn’t shut off. His office for the time being, like many in America, is in the kitchen. (Source: Capital News Service)

By Noah Fleischman

Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Marc Davis closes his laptop in his one-bedroom apartment and turns on the television. His day at work is over, but his work mind hasn’t shut off. His office for the time being, like many in America, is in the kitchen.

Davis, the sports director at NBC 12 (WWBT-TV) in Richmond, said on a normal day when he’s not at work he checks his phone periodically just to keep an eye on the developing news. Now, since he’s working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, separating work and home has become more difficult.

“The days feel longer,” Davis said. “You can’t really separate that workspace from home space.”

His station started telework almost five weeks ago and Davis found ways to take his mind off work: putting the phone down across the room and playing a game of MLB The Show or spending time with his girlfriend.

“I’ve just been making sure that I get the time to myself when I’m not working,” Davis said. “Just kind of tune out work for a little bit instead of constantly looking at my phone or Twitter or something like that.”

Davis is like many other reporters in Virginia and around the nation working from home during the coronavirus outbreak. Wayne Epps Jr., the Virginia Commonwealth University sports beat writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, has worked from home for the past month.

Epps said the transition has been smooth, partly because he’s used to working remotely from games.

“The fortunate thing for me and some other writers is that we did work from home or away from the office [at arenas, for example] often anyway, so we already had everything we needed to work from home,” Epps wrote in a Twitter direct message.

Epps has conducted all of his interviews over the phone or used Zoom to respect the social distancing guidelines.

Since sports ground to a halt, reporters have come up with creative stories and segments. Davis has covered sports angles in the coronavirus stories. When Home Team Grill in Richmond closed due to the pandemic, Davis used it as a way to show how the NCAA men’s basketball tournaments help drive local business.

“As a sports guy, you’ve got to be able to adjust and be flexible and show that you can do different things and different types of journalism,” Davis said.

Epps and the Richmond Times-Dispatch sports department have chronicled different sports rivalries in Virginia since there are no games occurring.

After returning to Richmond from Brooklyn, New York, where he was covering the Atlantic 10 men’s basketball tournament, Davis jumped in to help the news department with its coronavirus coverage.

Davis hadn’t covered non-sports news in years, but he used his experience as a news photographer from his first year in the television business.

“You’re dealing with different topics, different things, people who may be a little more sensitive to the topic you’re talking about,” Davis said. “There’s a lot we do in sports that can also apply to news as well.”

Davis made news packages for two weeks, helping with the coronavirus coverage. Then, he went back to making sports packages but tied them back to the coronavirus, including how coronavirus has impacted a local gym.

Davis follows guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control, and conducts most interviews through video conferencing applications such as Zoom or FaceTime. Davis said he wasn’t fond of virtual interviews before the COVID-19 pandemic, opting to do his interviews in person.

Now, he leaves it up to the interview subject to decide if they want to do it online or in person.

“I will do whatever makes you comfortable,” Davis said. “It’s probably going to change the ways I have when it goes back to normal, being open [to virtual interviews].”

Davis said he conducted five interviews using video conferencing in a week alone.

Davis doesn’t know when things will return to normal and he can return back to his desk, but for now he’s working to balance work and home life.

“We work in a business that you never really turn off,” Davis said. “Stories are always happening, there’s always things to keep an eye on. You might get home, but you’re never really all the way off the clock.”

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.