The COVID-19 pandemic hit close to home this week with the announcement that an employee at KLEW-TV tested positive for the virus, and the station’s nightly news broadcasts from Lewiston will be on hold as a handful of employees self-quarantine.
I spoke with Station Manager Dan Stellmon, who said his crew is weathering through what he describes as “a fluid situation (that) seems to change daily.”
KLEW, part of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, will rely on its sister stations for nightly broadcasts, and plans are developing to serve viewers through the station’s website, Facebook page and Twitter feed until five employees currently under quarantine are cleared to return to work.
As you might expect, the local station’s plight got me to wondering if we are doing enough to limit potential exposure for Tribune employees and is there any risk that we would be stymied by the virus from providing our readers local news seven days every week?
The answer is a somewhat qualified yes to the first question and an absolute no to the second.
Gathering the news requires interaction with those in the community and that, on occasion, can put reporters, photographers, editors and others on staff in proximity with those who may have the coronavirus.
That said, we took a number of steps back in March, some even before Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued the state’s self-isolation order. At that time we closed our downtown Lewiston operation to all but essential personnel. As the governor moved through the various stages of his reopening plan, we reopened our office, but we continue to have limited public contact in the newsroom. For example, anyone placing an obituary in person at the Tribune office must wear a mask and they are separated from mask-wearing employees here by proper social distancing and plexiglass screens.
The majority of our reporters work from home. They conduct interviews by phone, staff most public meetings via remote video access and do all they can to limit direct contact. That said, sometimes you have to go where the news is happening. Our reporters and photographers know to wear masks when in public situations and N95 masks, which provide some degree of protection for the wearer as well, are available.
Many of our copy editors and news page designers also work from home. Our IT department early in the process helped to shuttle to editors’ homes all the equipment needed to put together each day’s newspaper.
Our daily news huddle, where editors gather to go over stories, both local and those provided by one of the national/international wire services we use, is conducted by conference call for those working off site and with a smattering of mask-wearing editors on site.
To date our efforts have paid off. No one at the Tribune has been diagnosed with COVID-19. That said, the odds aren’t in our favor. Sooner or later, someone on our staff will likely come down with the virus.
If or when that happens, rest assured, you will continue to receive your Lewiston Tribune.
Thanks in no small part to a 128-year commitment to bringing news day in and day out to our readers, the independently owned and operated Lewiston Tribune has maintained proper staffing levels and a seasoned group of journalists capable of overcoming all challenges, including a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Clohessy is managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2251.