By Amanda Bennett, Director of Voice of America and Pulitzer-Prize winning author
As the coronavirus health pandemic spreads across the globe, journalists and newsrooms face historic challenges covering the news and continuing to provide the public with information. Lively studios and bustling newsrooms have now been replaced with robotic cameras and solo anchors reporting from home. Like good world citizens, media outlets and their reporters are also “staying at home” helping to responsibly slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But this crisis is requiring unique approaches. Journalists desperate to continue doing their jobs now have to overcome unprecedented hurdles.
Almost as soon as the coronavirus threat became apparent, Voice of America – the nation’s largest, civilian international broadcaster – quickly adapted to ensure there was no pause or cancellation in the over 1,800 hours of weekly news coverage we provide in 47 languages. To do that, we had to move all of our global newsrooms into the homes and living rooms of our hundreds of journalists to continue providing critical information to over 280 million people who tune into our broadcasts every week.
As you can imagine, it hasn’t been easy. On nearly a moment’s notice, our journalists have had to approach their jobs in creative, at-home ways. Their solutions have ranged from coat closets doubling as radio studios and clothing as soundproofing material to anchors broadcasting live to affiliates from their bathrooms with shower curtains backdrops standing in for the U.S. Capitol. The stunning level of creativity currently abounding throughout our organization continues to amaze me.
The following vignettes illustrate the resourceful ways we are continuing to report the news. Telling these stories has sparked creativity at its best to keep the news and information flow running. It has allowed us to fulfill our mission of providing consistently reliable and authoritative source of news that remains accurate, objective and comprehensive:
The Coat Closet Set
VOA Korean journalist turned a coat closet into a radio & video production studio. The Korean service has been producing video programming remotely since March 17. Seeking to minimize background noise when narrating a script from home, Seeyoung Kim turned a closet full of clothes into a soundproofed studio and makeshift recording booth in order to muffle background noise.
The Shower Curtain Backdrop and Bathroom TV Studio
VOA’s Latin America Division’s New York broadcast reporter goes live from her bathroom with shower curtain as studio backdrop. Broadcasting live to affiliates in Latin America, Celia Mendoza produces live remotes from her bathroom, turning the space into a television studio with a Washington, D.C.-themed shower curtain as a backdrop.
The Ironing Board Anchor Desk
VOA Bosnia Service transformed a living room into a TV studio and an ironing board into an anchor desk. Transforming his living room into a self-isolation studio for live TV interviews to affiliate stations in Bosnia, Dino Jahic, uses his ironing board to double as an anchor desk to set up an in-home camera on his laptop for live broadcasts.
The Plastic Tablecloth Green Screen
VOA Armenian Service journalist turned a $1 green, plastic tablecloth into an in-home green screen. Arman Tarjimanyan improvised a green screen in his home with a $1 green, plastic tablecloth taped to the wall to record stand-up news segments.
Whether it’s our colleagues here stateside or around the world, our team’s ingenuity reaffirms our commitment to provide a free, fair and available press – regardless of how dire the situation. The COVID-19 crisis has created enormous challenges to newsroom operations and has been met by a heightened level of innovation and commitment by reporters, producers and editors – all responding to this global pandemic.
This unprecedented shift in news making hasn’t been seen by our industry in many years, if ever. The enormous commitment by professional journalists delivering real-time and on-the-spot reporting has never been more on display on TV screens, radios, online, and in newspapers around the world. It’s hard to think of anything good coming out of this global tragedy, but if there is a silver lining it is the myriad of ways journalists have risen to the occasion and have met the challenge to be the best our industry can be in this unforgettable time.
Voice of America (VOA) is the largest publicly-funded civilian U.S. international broadcaster, providing news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of more than 280 million people in nearly 100 countries.