Reporting behind the scenes during a pandemic
By Sierra Rozen, Photography by Taylor Prinsen
An estimated 36,000 news media employees have been laid off as the pandemic has spread throughout the U.S. since mid-March. Along with a decrease in job postings of about 35%, all of this has now become the new norm for newsrooms.
During this stressful time, many workers have risen above the chaos to continue to bring their work to the people at home, one of them being journalists.
Through this pandemic, they have worked countless hours trying to keep the world updated with timely, factual information. Now, not only are they dealing with ups and the downs that quarantine has brought, but they are also reshaping how their job is usually done.
Journalist Lara Korte, who works as a higher education reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, is one of the many women who have had to change their entire routine.
“I used to commute 30 to 40 minutes for my job but now it’s nice that I have more time to get up, make breakfast, and get started working,” Korte says. “That being said, it’s definitely easier to get distracted at home. I spend all day alone in my little corner with my desk and in the evenings try to get outside for an hour or two.”
Unable to conduct in-person interviews, journalists are now relying on Zoom and phone calls. Though this is not ideal for them, it’s something they are willing to do to maintain the safety of themselves and their interviewees’.
However, for some women, they have no choice but to venture out into the field, given the nature of their job. For Taylor Prinsen, a freelance photographer who specializes in lifestyle, editorial and wedding photography, she’s had to find a way to balance a need for her safety while also maintaining a successful business.
“I had a client in May that rescheduled to June and they were going to go ahead and do a full hundred and something person wedding. At that point, I was just very uncomfortable with that. It didn’t end up working out and they hired another photographer and it was just a really messy situation,” says Prinsen.
It seems to be the lingering question in the air: When is it truly safe to do these kinds of jobs, especially when your income depends on it? Though Governor Greg Abbott started opening up businesses back in mid-April, for Prinsen it wasn’t an automatic switch back to normal.
“Well, I am my business and so I’m trying to figure out what is my moral responsibility to my community, to myself [and]to my family? And also how do I pay my bills? I am scared too. I want to be healthy. It really felt like when we were in full-on lockdown, it was easier because I wasn’t having to make those decisions,” says Prinsen.
With no clear end in sight, the lines between work and home for many reporters continue to be blurred. Juggling the added burden of childcare with working from home has meant employers making accommodations for this new normal.
Nicole Villalpando, a specialty editor for the Statesman, knows firsthand what it’s like to try and balance motherhood with her job. One of her children suffers from a chronic illness, which means she’s had to work from home before to accommodate this.
“Because I’m in doctors’ offices all the time and sometimes when [her daughter’s]been really sick, I’ve had to adjust and work from home. So for me working from home is not that unusual. What is unusual is that my husband is the breaking news editor at the Statesman. And so, the Statesman newsroom really is in our kitchen” says Villalpando.
The hardest part for most women is the issue of separating work life from home life. Unlike other jobs, the news is constantly taking over social media, and running in a continuous loop in the back of their minds, forcing them to find extreme ways to distance themselves.
Villalpando shared how the job can take its toll on her, saying “How do you keep up that pace emotionally, physically, mentally, and also how do you find new stories? At some point, I’m like no, I’ve already written about that.”
In the meantime, says Villalpando, there is one thing that the public can do. “Buy a digital subscription. Think about how you are making sure that someone is holding public servants accountable. And the other thing they can do is support local businesses.”