What we can all do
Supporting colleagues and teammates
This is a difficult time for everyone, and newsrooms are facing the challenge of balancing our responsibilities to our audiences with keeping ourselves safe and healthy. We can’t report if we’re also unwell.
- Check in with your colleagues. Staying fed, hydrated, and rested is rarely the priority in a newsroom, but it is absolutely essential during a public health crisis. Working remotely means that we have to make extra effort to reach out to one another and create space for people to share how they are doing.
- Anyone can propose new norms that support a healthy working culture. This roundup of how to create work rituals and norms was written for an in-person workplace, but the general principles can be adapted. For example, make Spotify playlists, acknowledge birthdays, practice “shine theory.”
- Avoid public speculation best left to epidemiologists and medical doctors, especially any comments that assume everyone is operating with a fully functioning immune system. There are many kinds of high-risk groups for COVID-19. Everyone’s life experience is different, and others’ may be substantially different from yours.
Working with sources and engaging the community
- Social-distancing rules still apply to sources, so limit in-person reporting unless it’s absolutely necessary (and you’ve cleared it with your editor and have taken appropriate precautions to limit your exposure). KUOW, based in Seattle, even purchased new boom mics with a longer reach to allow greater physical distance between reporters and sources.
- Keep tape syncers at home, to comply with social-distancing rules. Here’s Marketplace’s plan for conducting interviews without tape syncs, using Zoom. The Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) also recommends Squadcast for remote recording of multiple guests with high fidelity. KUOW notes that it has lowered its audio standards slightly to accommodate a syncer-free setup.
- Remote recording is the best way to go whenever possible, and AIR has assembled an excellent, collaboratively edited guide to processes and procedures.
- Disinfect your equipment regularly, frequently if you’re sharing it. Preliminary research shows COVID-19 may live on metals and plastics for two to three days, so it’s important to keep equipment clean, especially when it’s shared among colleagues. AIR has gathered some excellent resources for dealing with COVID-19, including tips on which equipment can be safely cleaned with rubbing alcohol (at least 60%) and cotton. Midrange and high-end smartphones are increasingly water-resistant and unlikely to be harmed by the occasional cleanse with a warm soapy cloth, but check the manufacturer’s specs before dunking your phone in a sink full of water.
- Be mindful that your sources are equally in the midst of a crisis and they may be dealing with grief and trauma. This tip sheet from the Dart Center compiles best practices for talking to survivors and victims. Poynter’s self-paced course on journalism and trauma includes info on interviewing trauma survivors. The Chinese Storytellers’ newsletter compiles a roundup of Chinese journalists’ trauma resources and notes.
- Support whistleblowers in speaking securely and safely with you, using this guide from the Government Accountability Project.
- Remember to be mindful of health privacy when speaking with sources about their personal medical information. This primer on HIPAA laws for journalists is a good start, especially the Q&A section. Although reporters can’t technically violate HIPAA (which applies to entities like insurers and hospitals), they may run into situations where patients’ privacy is in jeopardy. De-identify patient information.
- Remember to be mindful that your readers may be in crisis. Hearken has compiled advice on engaging with your community around COVID-19, including how to responsibly ask for information from your readers, coordinate reader communication, and care for yourself while doing community engagement in a crisis situation. Download Hearken’s presentation here.
What managers (especially) can do
Supporting your staff
The primary obligation of managers and editors during this pandemic is to not endanger your journalists. Second is to enable the conditions that maintain their health and safety.
Key to this is helping your staff clearly understand and effectively implement your organization’s policies. This allows them to have the information and resources they need to have agency over their lives and to make informed decisions about their safety.
- Establishing clear and specific policies, explicitly and repeatedly broadcasting them through multiple channels. Disruption of this nature means it’s more important than ever that your teams receive clear, actionable guidance they’re able to easily find and reference. Reiterating these messages allows for the very likely possibility that someone will miss an email or Slack message with crucial details. Repetition also gives you an opportunity to update your policies and messages as facts change and the situation evolves.
- Having your most senior newsroom leaders be not just the face of these policies but accountable for communicating and implementing them. Ensure your newsroom managers and editors understand your policies and guidelines and are ready and able to answer staff questions.
- Allowing reporters and staff to make decisions not to travel or to work from home without having to provide justifications. This is a time to trust your teams to make good decisions for themselves, their families, and the newsroom. Travel may be particularly fraught or dangerous for any staff who are immunocompromised or have family who are. Accepting “I need to not travel” or “I need to work from home” without requiring additional justification helps protect staff privacy.
- Providing space for feedback and peer support. As the situation is extremely fluid and information from public and health officials is changing rapidly, it’s helpful to provide a forum for your teams to ask questions and support one another. Maintaining team meetings and 1:1s is even more important during a crisis.
- Being realistic about the productivity expectations in a crisis of global proportions. These are scary times, and even your most experienced reporters are facing upheaval and disruption,
Supporting your freelancers
This is an especially difficult time for people who do not have access to the benefits and infrastructure afforded to full-time staff.
Show support and respect for your freelance network by sharing appropriate guidance with them and actively avoiding potentially risky assignments. Similarly, be extra-timely when responding to pitches and making payments.
If your newsroom is receiving updated information about exposures in your area or new self-quarantine guidelines, proactively share these with your freelancers.
Social distancing slows the rate of infection in a pandemic. Allowing employees to work from home without requiring them to use paid sick or vacation days helps ensure people will adopt this policy. It is worth emphasizing that the goal of working from home is to limit social contact to reduce the rate of infection, which would be undermined by heading to a local coffee shop. Consider alternate arrangements (including allowing people to work from dedicated parts of the office) for anyone who is not able to work from their residence.
Preparing your workplace
Even if most of your staff starts working from home, it is likely a few people will still have to go to your workplace; you should develop a plan for what to do if one of them becomes ill.
- Consider how to identify and support people who might be at risk, without inviting stigma and discrimination.
- Have a space where you can isolate the person who is ill and limit their contact with others.
- Have a plan to safely move them to a health facility.
- Have a plan to prepare and notify your building and cleaning staff, if you have them, of a potential exposure. And make sure appropriate cleaning supplies are readily available.
Remote work policies
- Provide clear and specific guidance on whether you are making a “recommendation” or a “rule.” Avoid creating additional ambiguity about who is needed in the office by letting those employees know directly. Ensure you have a plan for employees who cannot work from home—and avoid asking them for the reasons they need an accommodation.
- Be clear on whether “working from home” will require teams to use their paid sick or vacation days—and avoid this if at all possible.
- Be clear with interns, freelancers, and contractors on how “working from home” will specifically and uniquely affect them and their compensation and benefits.
- Check in with your IT and security teams on remote-working considerations. Ensure your teams have the ability to use any requisite devices (laptops, video and audio equipment) and services while remote. Work with your technology and information security teams as appropriate on the necessary steps for log-ins, shared passwords, and remote access, and provide this guidance to your reporters and editors.
Remote work practices
Many other teams have put together guides on best practices for working from home.
- How journalists can work from home securely
- 5 practical tips for managing newly remote teams during coronavirus
- WhereByUs uses NYT’s Library tool for docs
- Taking care of children
- Everyone should avoid unnecessary work-related travel, while personal travel should be at the discretion of the employee. Avoid sending into the field reporters who have self-identified as having a higher risk of serious illness.
- Consider requiring any work-related travel to be explicitly discussed with and approved by designated, named senior newsroom staff.
- Consider recommending automatic self-quarantine for anyone who has recently traveled to known hot spots, whether these are cities with confirmed community spread, high-risk areas like hospitals and nursing homes, or concerts and other crowded venues.
- Make sure staff who have to travel are briefed by qualified professionals.
- Ensure that employees know what to do and who to contact in case they feel ill while traveling. Provide contact information for local health care providers, as well as for any on-staff or on-call security and medical personnel within your organization.
- Provide employees who are about to travel or do field reporting with alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) and other medical supplies (such as a mask to wear if they become ill).
- Recommend employees regularly check websites for local public health offices or other health authorities for region-specific information.
- Check in regularly with any reporters out in the field, and assign a designated point of contact for them who will be available at all times if they have questions or need help.