The Shows Must Go On

How PRX’s news programs are handling production during the coronavirus pandemic

John Barth
Apr 27, 2020 · 3 min read
The World newsroom in the age of COVID-19.

In Boston, the days of COVID-19 start early.

Supervising producer for The World, Patti Daniels, begins her morning run from her apartment to WGBH, sometimes in the dark. Executive Producer Andrea Crossan shows up soon thereafter. She gets to work with disinfectant and paper towels.

The room is empty, except for them, when they arrive.

The newsroom remains mostly empty throughout a busy day with only a skeleton staff of editors and engineers, all keeping their distance, through the frenetic pace of show production. Masks on, they set to work.

They also keep an eye on a remote reporting and production team now spread out over Boston in their apartments and homes.

Host Marco Werman is home, too, about a mile from The World newsroom, where he spends most of his day in a closet recording interviews remotely.

At 3 PM, with director Jonathan Dyer calling the shots over an audio line, Marco hosts the show live from that closet with his dog, Frankie, nearby.

It’s much the same at The Takeaway and Politics with Amy Walter at WNYC, in a city that’s become one of the dangerous epicenters of the pandemic.

The bulk of the shows’ staff work remotely, too, including hosts.

But, the show has to come together, and that can only happen inside WNYC. The Takeaway’s executive producer, Lee Hill, and the lead technical director, Jason Cowit, set up an A and B team system for the control room to rotate.

They decided to alternate a minimal staff of only four people cycling into The Takeaway studios; two people, a director, and engineer, are on one week, and then the next week, another two-person team.

The team for The Takeaway, pulling the show together remotely.

It’s all designed to minimize contact.

“Our IT team and the show team have pulled off an amazing logistical juggle, ” says WNYC Chief Content Officer Andrew Golis. “Somehow, with almost everyone at home, the shows are as sharp and essential as ever.”

Across the country, Reveal shares a huge converted industrial building with the people who make Clif energy bars near Berkeley, California. But the open, light-filled space is mostly empty, too, with investigative reporters, editors, and host Al Letson burrowed at home.

For Reveal, the challenge of the pandemic had frustrating implications: an investigation that had taken over a year of work and planning was set to drop in March, just as COVID-19 was gaining attention.

Executive Producer Kevin Sullivan made the painful decision to hold the massive rollout and series launch and quickly pivoted his team to investigate the biggest story of our time. Timeliness and relevance matter most to listeners at moments like this.

And Kevin, who has built Reveal with the powerful editorial collaboration of public radio stations, is looking forward to what he has next: an investigation of the virus’s impact by working with two major station newsrooms.

“We believe this story will shine a light on how communities around the country are responding to the coronavirus, and the impact on their citizens,” he says.

The shows must go on.

For the latest COVID-19 coverage from The World, Reveal, or The Takeaway tune in on-air, subscribe to their podcasts, or visit them online.

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