Journalists working as essential workers to keep the public safe

By Shelby Evans

Photo provided by Molly Beck: A police officer standing outside of the capital monitoring protesters asking for the state to reopen.

Journalists have had to adapt to continue delivering critical news to the public while also staying safe during COVID-19 pandemic.

Reporters are chasing stories while never leaving their homes, and many are being furloughed for a period of time. 

Molly Beck is the State House reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, but she is no longer going to the capitol everyday and reports from her apartment in Madison. 

Beck’s reporting on state politics has changed to be only relating to COVID-19.

“I think the biggest change in our reporting is that we are not covering anything but the Coronavirus story from different angles,” Beck said. “There is a presidential race happening right now, and you wouldn’t know it.”

Getting factual information about COVID-19 is essential for ensuring that the public can stay safe.

Beck said, “The value of newspapers have maybe never been greater. At least it feels that way right now.” 

Carlos Gonzalez is a sports photographer for The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His job has changed significantly with no sports happening for him to photograph.

“The safety concern is the biggest thing just for the people I’m covering, myself, and the concerns of just the further spread of the virus,” Gonzalez said.

Before sports seasons were cancelled or postponed Gonzalez had spent a month in Fort Myers, Florida covering the Twins’ spring training. The baseball team didn’t even get to start their season.

After returning to Minnesota in early March, Gonzalez’s reporting had to adjust. 

“I did do a photo essay on the lack of sports in Minnesota,” Gonzalez said. “It was a broad range of what it’s like for there not being any sports.” 

Gonzalez takes extra safety precautions when he goes to take photos, but feels like even with the necessary information about COVID-19 his responsibilities as a journalist have not changed.

“We basically have the same fundamentals as we always do. We’re trying to tell stories in the community,” Gonzalez said.

Briana Reilly is the Capital Times state politics reporter. She has also been reporting from her home in Madison.

“I have not been coping well, I think the problem is that with no clear distinction between work and non-work time every waking minute feels like working time,” Reilly said. 

Unable to report how she normally does she has been fixating on her job and found that she is trying to get more information to the public faster than ever.

“It feels like I have not been able to stay off of my email or twitter or refrain from filing stories,” Reilly said. “The only identity we have right now is that of journalists because everything else in our life is in disarray.” 

Beck has found herself in the same kind of work/life balance as Reilly.

“I’ve never worked this much in my life,” Beck said. “It’s easy to do because you’re just working from home so there is no natural end to the day.”

“This is like the busiest day I’ve ever covered times 10 and it’s every day,” Beck said.

The reporters feel that regardless of how their jobs have changed they still commit to it everyday and find that the public is appreciating the information.

All three newspapers have instituted a system requiring a period of unpaid furloughs for all reporters. 

“Our ad revenue has completely fallen off a cliff because there isn’t anything to advertise right now,” Beck said. “If there isn’t any ad revenue we are going to be in trouble.”

Beck, at the Journal Sentinel, will be taking a week off without pay.

Reilly has already taken an unpaid week of furlough but has another upcoming week that she’ll take off.

The Capital Times’ policy is that “people are going on two weeks of unpaid furlough from last month through the end of the quarter,” Reilly said.

For Gonzalez at the Star Tribune, reporters are to take eight days of furlough over the next two quarters. Reporters are allowed to work with editors to allocate the days how they’d like.

“Basically a day a month for the foreseeable next months,” Gonzalez said. 

For Beck and Reilly in Wisconsin, they were around the state reporting on the election on April 7. They took photos and observed the scenes from six feet away to keep safe.

“You just kind of have to put that out of your mind because you have to do your job and you can’t get paralyzed by fear,” Beck Said.

Gonzalez was in Grand Forks, ND covering an outbreak that is linked to the LM Wind Power factory. 

“I wipe down all of my gear after coming out of assignment with clorox wipes, I’m washing hands, basically all the recommended things to not put myself or others in danger,” Gonzalez said.

Journalists are doing everything they can to make sure they are safe, their papers are safe and the public stays safe and informed.

Essential Workers

Alone on the front lines: What the pandemic is like for those few workers whose jobs have been deemed essential

By Molly DeVore

While people across the state protest to reopen Wisconsin businesses, those workers whose jobs have stayed open share their experience navigating a post-COVID world.


Natural Sound: Let Freedom Ring, sung at the Reopen Wisconsin Rally

VO: On April 24th, approximately 1,500 people gathered outside the Capitol to protest Governor Evers’ Extension if the Safer at Home Order

VO: Some protestors carried signs that said things like “any job that puts food on the table is essential” and “save lives and livelihoods.”

VO: However, for those workers who have been deemed essential, being able to go to work can sometimes mean having to choose between their health and their income. 

VO: Katherine Johnson, a senior at the University of Wisconsin and a cashier at Whole Foods says that for her, continuing to go to work is not  a choice. 

Katherine Johnson: People are sometimes like I respect your decision and it’s kinda hard because this isn’t necessarily a decision that  I’m making. Like I could either quit my job or take time off and then not have a source of income. 

VO: Robyn Freuck a BSN RN at Aurora West Dallas Labor and Delivery, says that continuing to work poses a risk for both her and her family. 

Robyn Freuck: I’m a single parent and luckily we haven’t had any patients, like I said, on our floor who have tested positive per say, But I already have a plan in place for my son. Like if we have a patient that’s positive he’s staying with my mom permanently until this all resolves. 

VO: Ben DeVore, a warehouse associate at Co-op Partners says that with the pandemic driving a higher demand for food, he is actually now working overtime. 

Ben DeVore: I think the biggest thing was just how, like just the pace increased so much more and also what it was, is I think a big thing, is we just ran out of products so quickly. And so I had never seen the shelves that empty.

VO: In the midst of this chaos workplaces are scrambling to implement new safety regulations. 

Johnson says that at Whole Foods things change everyday. 

Johnson: Every single time I’d come into work there’d like, be a new protocol. Like before you clock into work you have to have your temperature taken. So like if you have a temperature over I think it’s like 100.4 you have to go home and like self-monitor for a few days. so they do that and now, at the start nobody was required to wear masks but as of like a week or two ago everybody who works there has to wear a mask. Just like a lot of cleaning happening and just like a lot of other stores we installed like the plexiglass stuff so there’s like a little bit more of a barrier between like customers and the employees as well as like markers of  six feet around the store. 

VO: However, Freuck says that some of these regulations are dependent upon the available resources.

Freuck: at first it was, you can only wear one mask, you get one once a week. So you’re wearing these masks up to forty plus hours a week and now it’s we get a different mask when we walk in, one after lunch, one like halfway through our day. It’s just, I think they’re just kinda making it up as they go. 

VO: Johnson says that these rapid changes have made an already difficult situation even harder. 

Johnson: I’m trying to figure out this online school thing but I also have to like do my job which is now ten times more stressful than it ever was before. 

VO: Freuck says that the best way to navigate this challenging situation is for people to stay home.

Freuck: They’re protesting at Brookfield Square the Stay at Home Order, which is just completely arrogant. Like if I had the option to stay at home and live my life that way that’d be cool too. If people just stay home and stop complaining this will be over sooner and we can all get back to our lives. 

VO: This recent push to reopen the economy, will put others at risk, Johnson says. 

Johnson: I feel like this is coming up a lot right now with the protests that are happening and like you see those kind of things that like go viral on social media, and it’s like those protestors  like that one woman who was like I want a haircut and it’s like ya, maybe you want a haircut but the person whose giving you the haircut is gonna be the one who is like actually suffering in this equation. Like you don’t want to go out you want someone else to go out. 

VO: With the threat of becoming infected hanging in the air, many things remain uncertain for these workers. However, Johnson says that one thing’s for sure– these jobs have always been essential.

VO: From the J335 newsroom, I’m Molly DeVore