Like everyone else, my work life has changed over the last few weeks. At the TV station, I am alone with two very, very large empty office areas between me and the next person in the building. I now shoot interviews via Skype or Zoom with an earpiece because there’s no studio crew present. During the news, I am shunned to the weather set in order to keep the safe social distancing space.
On a positive note, I never have to wait to use the bathroom.
But it’s not about me. I work in media, but I’m not the story. Reporters are taught to avoid “injecting themselves into the story.” The norm is supposed to be that they tell other people’s stories without bias.
However, we’re not living in anything resembling “normal” times.
In past weeks, three CNN anchors have tested positive for COVID-19. Chris Cuomo went down first. Into his basement, that is. There, he continued to do his nightly show in seclusion from his family.
Viewers – who until then only had a choice between a) Trump’s “it’s like the flu” description and b) images of bodies on ventilators lined up in hospital hallways in Italy – finally had someone speaking frankly to them. Cuomo shared his experiences with the public on a daily basis while sweating profusely. He revealed his bizarre and fevered dreams. He discussed his joint pain, fatigue, and difficulty breathing. He even shared his actual chest x-rays showing how the virus attacked his lungs.
Of course, Cuomo’s been lambasted for claiming to be isolated in his basement for three weeks when he was seen outside a couple of times. But he’s not Anne Frank. He wasn’t in hiding. In fact, a little fresh air and Vitamin D probably was a good idea if done safely.
News anchor, Brooke Baldwin was number two to become ill. She was a little more private – since she was more horizontal and unconscious while recuperating. But she did share the emotional effects of the virus.
She felt alone, vulnerable, and grateful for the outpouring of support from friends and family. She talked about how important it was to accept help when offered and to support each other.
And now, CNN’s financial reporter, Richard Quest just got the nod from COVID too.
Unfortunately, others have complained that CNN’s coverage of its reporters’ lives has moved the network from news to reality TV. Possibly. The current situation would certainly make for a fabulous reality competition or apocalyptic drama.
Except that it’s really happening. So it’s news. And the public wants to know how these people, whom they come to for information every day, are doing.
Besides, sometimes reporters can’t avoid being part of the story. Paula Zahn’s first day at CNN was on 9-11. She was on the street, getting the story while actually helping people. And she was honoured for it.
Meanwhile, Walter Cronkite, probably the most respected reporter in news history, became legendary for breaking the news about JFK’s assassination. And breaking down as he did so. Yet no one questioned his professionalism.
By injecting their reality into a story that’s affecting the world, these anchors are giving a perspective that’s not coloured by politics or advertisers. They’re not the story. But as human beings surviving a pandemic, they’ve earned the right to be a part of it.