Work-from-home workarounds

2020.06.05

Olivia Stefanovich on Twitter Olivia Stefanovich, a national reporter in CBC’s parliamentary bureau, covers a COVID-19 news briefing in the West Block from a safe distance.

EVA VOINIGESCU

During her first few days of working remotely, CBC parliamentary bureau senior reporter Karina Roman was worried that she’d recreate 2017’s viral “BBC dad” moment where an expert being interviewed at home is interrupted by his children barging into the room.

“I was so paranoid of that happening, even though I know people think it’s charming and everyone would understand,” she says. “I think I put the fear of death into my children.” Roman is joking but the pandemic has certainly changed the way she works.

That is true for many CBC staff, most of whom are members of the Canadian Media Guild, CWA Canada’s largest Local.

Karina Roman

Karina Roman uses a mobile journalism kit set up in her home to do her live shots for Newsnet.

Roman’s daily story meetings now happen over Google Hangouts and she keeps in touch with her producers via Google Chat.

Instead of doing her Newsnet live shots from the CBC Ottawa bureau, Roman has set up her mobile journalism kit in front of her bookshelves at home. The kit, which was intended for use by reporters on the road during last year’s election, consists of a tripod, a rig that holds a light and cell phone in place, and a transmitter, called a Dejero box, that sends the live video signal back to the studio. She uses her AirPod headphones for their built-in microphone and as an in-ear connection to the control room in Toronto.

For radio stories she takes her microphone to her car.

“It’s padded so it’s not echo-y at all. It’s quite quiet. It’s actually a little bit like a sound booth and I’ve had good feedback from all the shows saying, ‘Wow, that sounded great’.”

Reporters who are still attending live briefings are pooling audio files of news conferences and interviews onto a central shared audio drive, which Roman says has been incredibly useful.

But other things are still a challenge. Source interviews have to be done over the phone or Skype instead of in person, which sacrifices sound quality and the dynamism of video footage. Finding people who have been affected by the policies Roman is reporting on to feature on camera is also trickier.

Overall, producing and editing stories from home requires more co-ordination and turnaround time, says parliamentary bureau field producer Christina Romualdo.

“Usually I’d be sitting there right beside my editor, frantically working away, and instead I am on the phone with him trying to rely on him to tell me what he means.” She says this experience has really highlighted the need for more and better communication.

Christina Romualdo

Christina Romualdo, a field producer with CBC’s parliamentary bureau, can be seen in the lower right corner, working with her editor on a shared screen in Google Hangouts.

This is especially the case with breaking news stories. In the past, Romualdo and her editor might have worked down to the wire editing clips and patching them into shows live from their Ottawa studio. Working from home, that’s no longer possible so they have to build in extra time for exporting the video and sending it to Toronto.

When Romualdo and her colleagues are missing the efficiency of cutting together segments in person, they turn on Google Hangouts and share screens.

“If it’s an editor who’s working in the building and a reporter working in the building, they’re separated by this glass door, but you can still see both of them and have somewhat of a conversation with everybody,” says Romualdo.

When it comes to work-life balance, Roman, who splits childcare duties with her husband, finds the mental gymnastics of managing both her job and the kids taxing.

For Romualdo, the creature comforts of her apartment, where she lives alone, are nice, but she senses less of a separation between work and home.

“Before when I used to go into work, I’d say, OK, as soon as I leave work, I’m done work. I’m putting my work phone away,” she says. “Now I will keep looking at my phone in case there’s something that happens.”

(Eva Voinigescu is a freelance journalist and producer based in Toronto. She is the vice-president of the Canadian Media Guild’s Freelance branch.)

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