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COLUMN: Like you, WCPO is getting creative to work from home

Posted: 8:27 PM, Mar 25, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-26 12:09:48-04
WCPO building

Editor’s note: With our coronavirus coverage, our goal is not to alarm you but to equip you with the information you need. We will try to keep things in context and focus on helping you make decisions. See a list of resources and frequently asked questions at the end of this story.

If you told me three weeks ago that I would soon be anchoring a newscast from my living room, I would have laughed.

Maybe rolled my eyes. Said, you clearly don't understand how my job gets done.

Well...joke's on me.

It's now possible - and likely coming soon to a TV (or livestream) near you.

Like so many of you, WCPO employees are now working from home. It's part of our obligation to help stop the spread of COVID-19, flatten the pandemic curve - pick your buzz phrase. We're trying to stay healthy, and keep our community healthy, too.

Moving WCPO operations from 1720 Gilbert Ave to a remote model is a massive undertaking. Some jobs made immediate sense to move to "work from home:" sales associates can still make calls and help clients from their kitchen counter, even our reporters can still uncover facts and people you need to meet without coming into the building.

But, especially in news and operations, we're often tethered to our building. Our studio has professional cameras and lighting and is tied into a network of systems and automation that's way above my pay grade and education level. Our real-time team listens to scanners to keep track on spot and breaking news throughout the day. All of our video archives are housed in servers (and sometimes still on tapes) in the building, too.

At any given time, on any given day, there are about 40 people milling around the WCPO 9 newsroom.

As of Wednesday, March 25, there are fewer than one dozen. Oftentimes, fewer than six.

"We looked at technology and who absolutely had to be in the building," said Mike Canan, Senior Director of Local Content. "As more information about the virus’ spread came out and we figured out what our technology could do, we have adjusted accordingly throughout the process. Mostly to move people out of the building more quickly."

Directing a newscast from home
WCPO Engineering set up a multiviewer and switcher in anticipation of having to direct a newscast from outside the WCPO building

Reporters and photographers spend most of their day out of the building anyway. This wasn't a difficult change to make, other than ensuring they could access video and our scripting system.

"The biggest challenge is taking systems that were designed to run locally and figure out how to use them remotely," said Larry Shields, WCPO 9 Director of Engineering. "We’ve had to come up with a lot of clever solutions and remote tools to continue to operate."

You may have already noticed Chief Meteorologist Steve Raleigh is working from home, doing weather each night from his basement - using his big screen that normally carries Bengals and Reds games. I miss those days already.

Jennifer Ketchmark's set up is in her basement, too. Both meteorologists can run graphics from their computers right in their homes. Shields called these set ups his team's "biggest win."

Anchor Craig McKee joins us each night from his basement, where our the WCPO built a green screen backdrop for him.

The bigger challenges have been moving newscast producers and video editors out of the building, especially getting everyone access to the video that normally is house in servers at the station.

"Two weeks ago, there are several job functions and dozens of people many would think could not work remotely," said Shields. "Today, they not only are working remotely, they’re able to perform at nearly the same level as if they were in the building. That’s pretty incredible."

Producers also had to have home access to their newscast rundowns - where they write stories and piece the newscast together. And then there was the issue of how they communicate to the newscast director and anchors during the show.

The biggest thing we did was deploy a bunch of laptops that were supposed to be upgrades for people in the office to employees who have desktop computers," said Shields. "Additionally, we purchased some new software for remote control and one or two additional gadgets."

John Matarese works from home
John Matarese works from a green screen in his home, so you don't waste your money

Shields' teams continue working to move employees out of the Walnut Hills building, with a goal to allow for the entire operation to be done remotely if the need arises.

Paola Suro makes a soun
Multimedia journalist Paola Suro uses her closet and a coat to make a sound booth to track her story

In the meantime, our reporters, editors, anchors, photographers, and producers will continue to work hard to keep you updated - with facts and data, not rumors and fear.

It doesn't matter if we're working from our newsroom - or from our kitchen counters.

We live in and love Greater Cincinnati, too. We've been working for you for years - and no pandemic will stop that commitment.

As always, thank you for your trust.

Evan Millward is the weekend anchor and an enterprise reporter for WCPO 9 News in Cincinnati, working from his home in Over-the-Rhine.

Find more coronavirus/COVID-19 hotlines and resources below:

Ohio

  • Department of Health COVID-19 hotline: 833-4-ASK-ODH
  • See ODH’s COVID-19 resources here.

Kentucky

  • State COVID-19 hotline: 1-800-722-5725
  • See the Cabinet for Health and Family Services coronavirus resource site here.

Indiana

  • SDH Epidemiology Resource Center: (317) 233-7125 or (317) 233-1325 after hours, or e-mail epiresource@isdh.in.gov
  • See more information for coronavirus in Indiana here.

What is coronavirus, COVID-19?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are "a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

A novel coronavirus, such as COVID-19, is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.

COVID-19 was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China and has now been detected in 37 locations across the globe, including in the U.S., according to the CDC.

The CDC reports the initial patients in China have some link to a large seafood and live animal market, indicative of animal-to-person spread. A growing number of patients, however, did not report exposure to animal markets, indicating the disease is spreading person-to-person.

What are the symptoms? How does it spread?

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include fever, cough, shortness of breath.

The CDC said symptoms could appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It is similar to the incubation period for MERS.

Spread of the virus is thought to be mainly from person-to-person. Spread is between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet). Spread occurs via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

According to the CDC, it could be possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, the CDC said.

The disease is most contagious when people are the sickest and showing the most symptoms.