Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Wash your hands again. Wipe down the gear. Clean hands, Clorox wipes, and six feet apart is our defense against the Coronavirus.
As most people are under “stay at home” orders, or as we call them in Tennessee, “Safer at home,” news photographers and reporters are out running around covering the avalanche of heart-breaking and tragic events. Live in all shows is not working from home by any stretch of the imagination. Working from home is never a real option for the many camera operators in this business. News does not happen at home. My car is my office, my transportation, and my edit suite.
Yes, you see plenty of anchors or reporters self-isolating in basements, home offices, and anywhere children and pets will not interrupt. Yet, someone needs to go and shoot the evolving emergency scenes popping up all over the country. The most recent for me was a multi-day story about nursing home patients who tested positive for Coronavirus eventually wheeled out of the facility for hours on end. Someone must bear witness. Someone must show what is happening.
My wife is full of anxiety. Every time I leave the house, I can see her stress level rise. This morning, she asked me to wear one of our four N95 masks I bought to use as I finish sanding garage walls as I remodel the space. I purchased these masks in early January. I had extra; we donated those last week. We heard what we gave was better than the masks the health care company provided to our friend, who is a nurse practitioner.
This last weekend, I had what I consider my biggest scare. The administrator of a nursing home, with nearly 100 COVID19 positive patients and workers housed inside, marched out of the building, crossed the street, took off her mask, and tried to hand me her business card—hard pass.
During her make-shift press conference, a facility nurse stood behind my shoulder within three feet and recorded the exchange on her phone. So much for social distancing. Eventually, the whole facility was evacuated by the health department for deep cleaning. What does one do? The news must be covered. People need to be informed. “Give me a place to stand, and I will film the world,” the motto of the American Society of Cinematographers. A slogan never felt more important to me. Just stand six feet apart.
In the situation above, I texted my wife to ask her to unlock the garage door and fill the washing machine with soap and water when I am on the way home. When I arrived home after a 14-hour shift, I carried all my gear into the garage, wiped it down, undressed, threw my clothes in the wash, and took a shower. I must have washed my hands a dozen times between the incident and arriving home.
Boom poles and shotgun microphones are one answer to keeping interviewers and interviewees six feet apart. Some of my colleagues are using make-shift boom poles, light stands with microphones gaffed taped to the end. Thankfully, K-Tek loaned me their new interview boom pole to review, leaving me with an extra, albeit low-quality pole I will lend to a co-worker who may not have one on hand.
Driving in separate cars has also helped ease anxiety. I see no reason for a news crew to sit together in a vehicle all day long. If one gets sick, riding along in a car nearly guarantees the other will get sick too. For smaller news stations, one whole news crew down due to quarantine may be an annoyance, but two or more whole crews down may be crippling for the station as a whole.
Thankfully, most camera operators are used to working out in the field all day long. A bunch of tech makes this all possible. FTP is great for sending edited stories into a station. For wireless live shots, a LiveU, TVU, or Teradeck all work well. Many cameras can use ethernet or AirCards. My AirCard for my Sony 400 has been a lifesaver. Also a lifesaver, my company-issued MacBook Oro. An AirCard may cause an image quality hit, but it works well enough in breaking news situations. The tech is the most straightforward part of my world these days.
The hardest part, keeping people at a safe distance. More times than I like, I have close talkers, and personal space boundary breakers all decide to talk closer and occupy my own space a little closer than usual. It is as if they disagree with the science and stay at home orders. Some think my steps backward and away are funny. It isn’t. I’m not laughing.
COVID19 also provides a significant hurdle for news coverage. Cameras must keep a safe distance away from hospitals and testing centers. Capturing video inside a hospital was never straightforward in normal circumstances. In the time of Coronavirus, it has become impossible. COVID19 is a virus nearly hidden from view. Only a few patients brave enough to turn their smartphone camera on themselves and document what is happening can get video out of a hospital.
The NY Times has a great video from an NYC doctor; all of it shot on her personal iPhone. The heart-breaking image of a refrigerator truck acting as a temporary morgue may only have been discovered by this brave Doctor. Network and local news cameras are likely not allowed in that space. To me, this is the scariest part about COVID19. The not seeing. The news missing a piece of this story. You missing a piece of this story. Missing critical information and missing must-see images scares me the most, because the more you know, the better decisions you may make. Stay safe. Stay home. Stay aware.