Tips for continuing to cover the news in the coronavirus pandemic

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From Ruby Bailey
Missourian Executive Editor, Missouri Community Newspaper Management Chair, and MPA Director

As confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased, it became clear that the best thing the Columbia Missourian could do for our faculty editors, staffers and our community was to adhere immediately and aggressively to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocols while still providing the comprehensive and accurate coverage our audience needs.

So, we instituted the policies I outline below. Some of them your newsroom and business office may also have implemented, like working remotely, Zoom meetings and ‘social distancing.’ Others may be new. I share these here not as an exhaustive list but as the start of a conversation about keeping our communities and journalists safer in the weeks to come.

We’re all about social distancing and sanitation: Missourian faculty editors work remotely, or, when in the newsroom, primarily in their offices or maintaining the CDC-recommended distance of approximately six feet. News meetings are held via Zoom. We cleaned the newsroom and then we cleaned again.

Then we significantly reduced the copy editing and design crews and stationed people six feet apart. Each area is stocked with supplies and everyone is to clean the desk, keyboard and monitor, as well as sanitize their hands before starting their shifts.

We scaled back our public presence: In-person reporting and photography are limited to events we deem as essential and we practice social distancing with sources, as well. Public Safety and Health Editor Katherine Reed informed the Columbia community about some of our efforts in a March 12 story. Photographers are using longer telephoto lenses and boom mics for any audio recording, said Brian Kratzer, the Missourian’s director of photography. Kratzer early on distributed kits of photo gear to reduce photographers’ need to come to the newsroom.

He also implemented some suggestions from the National Press Photographers Association and the Associated Press Photo Managers. Among the most important: clean gear after each and every use and at the end of each shift. Equipment should be stored at home in a plastic bin, a makeshift “clean zone,” said Kratzer.

We implemented precautions for our carriers and home delivery customers, too: To reduce the number of carriers congregating as they wait for their bundles, Missourian General Manager Bryan Chester said carriers are required to remain in their vehicles while the dock manager separates carrier bundles. Carriers were issued gloves to wear when delivering papers.

The Missourian’s business office remains open to the public. Sales, design and circulation employees to work remotely, as does the “kick runner.” Chester, the circulation and general manager work in their offices and practice social distancing from each other and any customers. The front counter, which is open to the public, is sanitized every two hours. Gloves are provided to those who want to pay in person for their subscriptions.

We remember the basics: I don’t think we can remind each other of these basic, yet essential, actions too many times: Wash your hands – vigorously for no fewer than 20 seconds. Don’t touch your face. Stay six-feet away from each other (whether in the newsroom and in public places). If you feel ill, stay home. If you are in a high-risk group or care for someone who is – stay home.

Stay well.

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