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COVERING COVID-19: A look inside the local coverage with journalists/parents

*The photo above was taken in early March–when this article was originally written for our April print magazine–just as the station began to practice social distancing on-air. You’ll now find most of the anchors, reporters, and producers working remotely and broadcasting live from home.

We are in unprecedented times. This tiny novel virus will forever leave an imprint in our lives and that of our children. On the front lines of this evolving story are parents like you and me. Among the government leaders, retailers, medical workers and truck drivers are the journalists sharing those stories. 

Related: Follow Along with our COVID-19/coronavirus related coverage in Tampa Bay

We wanted to ‘virtually’ step inside a local newsroom to find out how covering COVID-19 has impacted the lives of the journalists covering the stories, not just professionally, but personally as mom and dad. 

Kelly Frank, a mom of two and director of content at WTSP-10 News, our local CBS affiliate shared answers to our questions via email (because…social distancing) to give you a glimpse of life behind the camera. 

COVID-19 is unprecedented. As a newsroom full of parents of young children, you have covered hurricanes and big breaking news stories. But this is a news event that literally stopped you in your tracks at some points in the day as new information  broke.

Kelly Frank WTSPKelly Frank: We are parents, people just like all of you, members of this community just like your readers. We have a huge responsibility of covering the story and delivering information, but there are moments when we do stop and take it in just like anyone else would.

For me, one of those moments was the declaring of the national emergency. I was standing in the center of our newsroom and I noticed everyone stopped. I took a moment and shot some video on my phone just as President Trump was announcing that. It is rare that a newsroom stops moving. I posted it on Instagram because it was such a rare thing to see.

Separating  fact from fiction: This must have been challenging, especially when you are up against social media.

Kelly Frank: We have really good systems in place, and we have our own social platforms that we service. Early on, we identified that our mantra and our goal at 10News was going to be to deliver Facts not Fear. It wasn’t just a graphic or a slogan. It was going to be in every word we wrote. It would be in our anchors’ tones, our banners and our stories.

You could feel the anxiety gripping so many people and in large part due to some sensationalized coverage on cable TV. We aren’t about that and never will be.

As a human race, it’s really up to us and what we choose to read or watch or click or swipe. We all have to make smart, informed choices. We have to look at sourcing. It is so important, now more than ever, to evaluate everything we consume and what we choose to share.

I can tell you that is how I lead, that is how our journalists work and what the spirit of our newsroom is every single day.

As a journalist, you are used to telling stories and breaking down the facts for adults and even young adults. When it came time to explain what is going on to your own young children, what was that like for you?

Kelly Frank: Are you kidding? Some days I feel like my kids explain things to me!

This isn’t something we can shield from our children. They know about it. School is canceled. Gymnastics is canceled. They can’t go to some of their favorite places.

Every parent has to do what makes sense for their family. For us, we talk plainly and calmly. Our girls have two journalists for parents. They know mommy gets calls at all hours, goes in early and comes home late. They are naturally curious. We protect them to a point, but we don’t bubble them.

They are in kindergarten and 1st grade and are wise beyond their years. At the same time, for them this is one big adventure! For now, I am protecting that innocence as long as I can.

You all are immersed in this story at almost every single moment as you talk to experts, cover press conferences, plan future coverage. It has to take its toll. What can you tell other parents out there about the importance of giving yourself a mental break?

Kelly Frank: Well, hopefully their lives allow it a little better than mine!
For me, I set time for it. I am responsible for leading a news organization. I have a phenomenal leadership team, partners and a leader I answer to, who is also a parent and understands what is needed.

When I come home, I have protected hours. The phone goes down and dinner time is my family time. So are the hours that follow. I will check in with email before I sleep.

This current situation is a little more ever-present so I have to take little breaks here and there.

Take a lap. Walk the room. Sit outside. When I am home, a new development is to play a video game and get my butt kicked by my 7- year-old!

We don’t know how this story will continue  to unfold over the next few weeks and even months, but the local media will press on. How are you all gearing up for this new way of life?

Kelly Frank: We are taking the guidance very seriously. We have many people working from home. We have field crews that are calling in and not coming to the newsroom now. We are doing more video conferencing.

We are producing our broadcasts with social distancing —meaning eliminating our group shots and ensuring we are spread out in our work space. Our company, TEGNA has invested in deep cleaning multiple times and we are doing daily cleansing of workspaces.

Key to all of it is communicating every step of the way with our journalists and with you. We are as transparent as we can be. We talk with our viewer about what we are doing and how we are changing what we do. It all goes back to facts, not fear. That is as much an internal message for our team as it is an external one in our coverage.


Do you think COVID-19 will change journalism and/or the media? How has it impacted you?

Kelly Frank: I do. I’m not certain how yet but I do think it will.

I am just old enough to have been producing during 9/11. We saw changes then in how we produced, how we traveled, what we did. You can’t go through something this large and not change. I don’t believe change is a bad thing though. We are learning every day and will continue to learn.

As for me, each day, it has made me for thoughtful. Every word, every action – I take in to account what it will mean and how it will be perceived. I’ve already made mistakes and with them, I course-correct and then I learn.

When people are scared and you are working through an unknown, the greatest thing you can do as a leader is be calm, transparent and present. We really are in this together.

As we all practice social distancing and can use all of the advice we can get, what are some favorite activities you and your family are loving right now?

Kelly Frank: We are so lucky we have a swimming pool. So we have definitely taken advantage of that.

My little girls are gamers so there has been some video game playing (and yes, I get beat every time!).  Our youngest and my partner were out planting an herb garden yesterday. We will definitely be taking advantage of that.

There is some binge watching going on…and LEGOS! There will be some Lego creations all over the joint soon: scooters, bikes, roller skates. There are really so many things you can do, so many things NOT canceled!

The WTSP News Team Weighs in on Covering COVID-19


Rob Finnerty and FamilyRob Finnerty, Brightside Morning Anchor and dad of two:

How has covering this story impacted you as a parent/journalist?

It was tough for a while leaving my family and going to work while everyone else stayed home. It almost feels like covering a hurricane, but this time there’s no storm, and no one knows when everything will be back to normal – but that’s my job, and I take that very seriously.

Favorite kid-friendly activities during quarantine?

We have the benefit of having beautiful weather in Florida this time of year, while a lot of the country is still pretty cold. We have loved going on bike rides, being out on the water and going to the beach – that stuff hasn’t stopped!


Grant Gilmore and familyGrant Gilmore: Brightside Morning Meteorologist and dad of two (wife is a reporter at WTSP, Liz Gilmore-she is still on maternity leave)

How has covering this story impacted you as a parent/journalist?

I’ll be honest, it’s been hard to focus on being present in the moment. When I’m at work, I think about my family and how to protect them and properly prepare. When I’m home it’s been hard to disconnect from the constant stream of new information.

Favorite kid-friendly activities during quarantine?

Our oldest is 18 months so we haven’t been impacted too much. I have, however, made a concerted effort to make sure we get outside every day to enjoy some fresh air and get a little sunshine. Fortunately, we have a lot of that in Florida.


Courtney Robinson and familyCourtney Robinson: WTSP Investigative Reporter and mom of two

How has covering this story impacted you as a parent/journalist?

This is one of the most challenging in terms of changing information and there is no end in sight. I’m reaching out to various officials before, during and after my scheduled day. As a parent, it’s difficult to strike a balance. I’m focused on quality versus quantity in the time spent right now with my 2 kids. As a mom, I understand the importance of making sure you and I have the best information to make the right decisions for our families.

Favorite kid-friendly activities during quarantine?

Walks. Lots of family walks. We also do puzzles and games and now are gearing up for at-home learning.

Related: Whoa, Baby! It’s a Baby Boom in the 10 News Newsroom

*Disclosure: I used to work full-time as a news reporter at WTSP before I became a mother. And I freelance there on occasion. Due to the tight deadline, I was able to quickly get information back due to my personal connections with everyone in the newsroom. I can assure you all of our local journalists in Tampa Bay are tirelessly committed to covering this story for you.

Laura Byrne
Laura Byrne is an award-winning former television news journalist who spent 15+ years in newsrooms across the state of Florida including Sarasota, Tallahassee, Fort Myers and right here in Tampa Bay where she still freelances on occasion. She covered the political beat, crime beat and every day breaking news during her time in Florida newsrooms, but is now focused on sharing positive news stories and events with families in Tampa Bay. She is a proud mommy of two little boys who keep her on her toes and laughing every day. Her goal is to inspire families just like yours to get out and play and experience all that Tampa Bay and our great state of Florida have to offer! She encourages you to share your stories and upcoming events so we can spread the good news.

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