Fighting COVID-19 from the Newsroom Front Lines

Working in the media can sometimes be a thankless job. There may be some exceptions for those in front of the cameras. But for those of us who work behind the scenes, we also experience the same stress, depression, excitement and fulfillment, especially during this time of a global coronavirus pandemic.

After the Luzon Lockdown on March 16, 2020, our network CNN Philippines put in place protocols to continue operations while taking care of its employees. I was part of the skeleton workforce that would keep working in the office. But in a surprising turn of events, our building had to close its doors for disinfection. Another company that shares the building with CNN Philippines had an employee that tested positive for COVID-19.

Bringing my home to work
Was supposed to be part of the skeleton workforce until an emergency shutdown of the network’s building forced most of us to work from home.

The following week, while the network was still off the air, we started working from home and reporting through Facebook Live. Even when we finally returned on air, majority of the workforce were at home, while a smaller skeleton staff stayed in the office.

I was among those who worked from home, and this was my new normal for the next three weeks. I would wake up at three in the morning to start writing scripts, have it approved through email, and send it to Viber which serves as the new teleprompter for our TV news anchors.

Work-from-home setup at 3:00am: laptop in bed
Our anchor Ruth Cabal with her brother broadcasting from home

Nearly a month into our new setup, some of my officemates asked our managers for a break. I could only imagine how physically, mentally and emotionally tiring it was for them to be working and sleeping in the office. And so when I was asked to replace one of them for a week, I said yes without having second thoughts.

In the wee hours of the morning of April 13, our news crew cab arrived in my village to drive me to work. I was eager to see my colleagues whom I haven’t seen for almost a month. When we finally reunited, things were not the same. We could not touch each other as casually as before, we had to wear face masks, and we had to keep a safe distance between each other. I felt a sense of joy and sadness at the same time. We are indeed living in very different and challenging times.

So I quickly engaged myself at work. As coordinating producer from the office, I prepare the rundown in our newsroom management system, assemble the scripts sent by my executive producer and other colleagues from home, supervise the materials needed for the newscast with our associate producer, test the streaming quality of our anchors from home, and sit in the control room during the newscasts.

Prepping our anchor, Ria Tanjuatco-Trillo

I also supervised the airing of 9:30 am press briefings from Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases and the subsequent Laging Handa briefings.

There was very little time for rest during the entire shift, so we had to make the most of our free time. That is, by eating the food provided by the company or drinking a coffee mix. I also had to make sure I took my vitamins to boost my immune system.

Playing games after work to relieve stress

By noon, my shift would end and I would usually take a nap in the afternoon after eating my lunch. But there were some days that I had to spend the afternoon doing my other job: teaching college students under an online classroom setup. I would prepare presentations, record video lectures and upload them on Google Classroom for my students.

Screenshot from one of the video lectures the author did for his students in an online class

Staying in the office and not going home was daunting. You start to realize things you don’t think about on normal days. For one, I felt fortunate to still have a job even when work stoppages were the norm. In some media companies, both contractual and regular employees are experiencing ‘no work, no pay’ schemes. Others were given cash advances, but those were, in essence, loans. Some even continue to make their reporters and other staff go in the field instead of work from home.

Even with a pandemic, media has kept working and people have been appreciative. It was just a few years ago when a number of netizens started calling us ‘biased’ or ‘presstitutes.’ But these trying times show that there is always a need for credible journalism. So much has changed, and it’s all because of a virus.

In a rare gesture, someone sent food over to our newsroom, saying thank you for our service to the nation

But journalists are not immortals. I’m only human, and I’m very scared. I put myself at risk of contracting the dreaded virus by going to work, as dozens of Filipinos continue to test positive on a daily basis. Reading all these news of deaths and challenges faced by our countrymen didn’t help.

I would sometimes ask myself if I should go home, because I was afraid of possibly infecting my loved ones. My mother is a senior citizen and has hypertension, and my father just survived a serious respiratory illness. I cried while sharing these fears to one of my officemates. Working in the media at this time does take a toll on one’s mental health.

Five days after being in the front lines, I am now back to working from home. I may be with my family, but the fear is still there. I can only pray for my health and safety, and the people around me. I salute my other colleagues who continue to work in the office. They are doing an important duty to the Filipino people.

As I write this, the future remains uncertain. But I take comfort in the hope of a new tomorrow. Quoting Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s message to her people:

“While we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.”

[Entry 298, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Subselfie - JM

JM Nualla is the Social Media Head of SubSelfie.com. He is presently a News Producer of New Day and The Source on CNN Philippines. He also serves as an Assistant Professor in iACADEMY, teaching scripwriting, film language and mentoring thesis projects. Previously, he was a Segment Producer for the GMA News Special Assignments Team and Senior Producer/Online Content Manager for Claire Delfin Media. Beyond his career, JM is a follower of Jesus, a frustrated mountaineer/traveler/adventurer, and a hopeful romantic. Broadcast Communication 2009, PUP Manila. MA Journalism 2014, Ateneo de Manila.

Read more of his articles here.

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