How news organizations can adjust to working from home, address safety concerns


By Matt DeRienzo • LMA Consultant

“Social distancing” recommendations aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus have many news organizations asking staff to work from home, presenting significant technology and communication challenges.

And wider community shutdowns are presenting other unique challenges. What do you do with a sales staff that probably shouldn’t be calling on anyone, and whose clients are dealing with their own crises?

Nieman Lab wrote about what sports journalists should be doing with every major sporting event, from high school to college, to the NBA and Major League Baseball, shut down.

Poynter has information about which workers face the greatest risk from the outbreak. The New York Times published a notice on its front page assuring readers that the print edition on their doorsteps was safe to open — that its production is mostly automated, and the only other person handling their newspaper is a delivery driver wearing disposable gloves. In Connecticut, a local TV reporter and anchor in the over-60 age range most susceptible to the effects of the virus announced that he would be taking leave from the station in order to limit his exposure.

But as always, journalists are on the front lines of covering the crisis, and that can include being in close proximity to politicians, doctors and patients who’ve been exposed. After an attendee of the IRE/NICAR investigative journalism conference tested positive, reporters from news organizations all over the country self-quarantined as a precaution. Journalists from ABC and the New York Times have also reported testing positive for coronavirus.

Similar to coverage of major hurricanes or other disasters, journalists are being asked to do high-stress first responder-like work while juggling their own anxiety about the outbreak and tending to their lives — stocking up on groceries, stressing about their elderly parents, figuring out how to deal with child care because of school closings.

Poynter has written about how journalists can manage stress in covering coronavirus, and as always, the Dart Center is a great resource for making sure that journalists are OK, including self-care tips, as well as how to do the least harm to sources and subjects of stories.

Finally, working from home carries a whole set of challenges. Companies with remote teams, including local online news publisher members of the national nonprofit, LION, are stepping up to offer advice to legacy news organizations.

Rebekah Monson, co-founder of Whereby.Us, which has local online news sites in several cities across the country, writes that it’s not just about having the right scheduling, messaging and video setups. There should be some structure and intentionality to how a team communicates over the course of the day.

Juggling kids home from school while you are trying to work is a whole other matter. Poynter has pretty comprehensive advice on managing that — even broken down by the age group of your kids.

The crowdsourced Coronavirus Tech Handbook has an entire section on tools and tips for remote work, and Poynter has a roundup of tech tools that can make working from home easier.