Saving gas, money, and time: Reporter adjusts to working from home during COVID-19

From the WRBL Internship Assignment Desk

This story was produced as part of the WRBL 2020 Summer Intern program

Ashley Soriano sits behind the news desk on her first day with Fox 5 Atlanta. (Photo by Ashley Soriano)

ATHENS, Ga. (WRBL) – Coronavirus concerns have upended the media industry, and many reporters are quickly adapting to new roles. When Ashley Soriano accepted a position at Fox 5, an Atlanta TV news station, she never imagined that she would be producing on-air content within the year.

Soriano graduated from the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in December 2019. Much of her college experience was in newspaper reporting, but she realized that she would need to expand her talents as she entered a competitive job market. She accepted a position as a news trainee with FOX 5 in January.

“The way it was set up, I would go into the office Monday through Friday and shadow reporters, photographers, and producers. That happened for about two months, and then everything changed,” Soriano said.

As concerns about coronavirus mounted, FOX 5 notified Soriano that she would begin working from her home in Athens in late March. At first, Soriano was relieved to avoid long transit times and rush-hour traffic.

“I was traveling to and from Atlanta five days a week. It was about a two-hour trip there and a two-hour trip back. It was a lot of gas, a lot of money, and a lot of time,” Soriano said.

Her training program initially revolved around shadowing established professionals, but working from home meant that Soriano would be working independently. She worried that she would miss out on valuable training and newsroom experience.

Soriano soon came to realize that living in Athens made her an asset to an adapting newsroom. She started shooting B-roll footage and location shots to supplement the station’s Athens coverage, and she quickly worked her way up to a larger role.

“I do interviews, I write scripts, and I shoot and edit videos. Some of the stories you see on TV, I did those all by myself. Because of coronavirus, I went from being a trainee to really being a reporter for a major media market,” Soriano said.

Soriano’s training certainly hasn’t stopped, and now newsroom veterans are learning alongside her as they adapt to unexpected circumstances.

“We all had to shift our models,” Soriano said. “For example, anchors are working from home, which is unheard of. Everybody has to do a lot of Zoom interviews. We have to learn to work with what we have.”

Soriano’s biggest challenge came when she was called upon to cover recent protests. When Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker announced that she had tested positive for COVID-19 a few days after leading a demonstration on May 31, Soriano decided to get tested as well. The tests came back negative, but the experience was a stark reminder of the risks of covering large gatherings during the pandemic.

“There are situations where you have to cover a story while also jeopardizing your own health and safety, but you have to do what you have to do to get the news out there,” Soriano said.

Even as operations slowly return to normal, Soriano predicts that some aspects of the news media will be forever changed by coronavirus.

“I can actually see newsrooms continuing to use more virtual resources,” Soriano said. “I don’t think virtual reporting and Zoom interviews are always an acceptable substitute, but it can facilitate some reporting that you might not be able to do otherwise.”

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