At The Dallas Morning News, we’re running hard to stay on top of the coronavirus story. It’s not easy to keep up.
Early last week, we made plans to have our print production desk work from home on Friday night as a test, just to make sure we could produce the print edition without people onsite if we needed to. We checked that everybody had the right equipment and made sure our networks were ready.
Then, a couple of days before the test, we got word that someone from another organisation had tested positive for COVID-19 after going to a conference that nine of our journalists also attended. Suddenly, coronavirus was, or might be, here. We sent all nine journalists home to self-quarantine for two weeks and moved the print production test up a day to Thursday. The test went well, thanks to the heroic work of our sports and news production desks.
On Friday, I suggested that the entire staff work remotely to see if we could produce our digital and print products without coming to the office. Part of the idea was to simply to keep our journalists away from each other to avoid the spread of the virus. (So far, all of our journalists are feeling fine.)
It worked. On Saturday, March 14, the newspaper was published 100% remotely by our newsroom.
We are working remotely for the foreseeable future, affecting 150 newsroom employees. Other departments are working onsite as needed while maintaining an appropriate social distance.
How does our virtual office look?
Conducting news meetings by Google hangouts has worked well, though some of us still struggle to understand when the mute button is on and when it’s not. These video meetings also offer insight into what people wear when they work at home and what art they hang on their den walls. The other day, I complimented several editors on their taste in crown molding.
We keep a master list of stories in Google docs and communicate mostly by Slack, though e-mails and text messages still fly. Communication can be a challenge on deadline: In this morning’s print edition, we almost ran the same photo on both the front page and the Metro front — the kind of near-miss that probably wouldn’t have happened if we’d all been working in the room together.
A word to our local audience
In addition to our internal efforts, we’ve helped our local readers by offering a coronavirus-focused newsletter:
And I reached out to customers with this video:
My advice, four days in
The best advice I can give is to show vulnerability and take care of people. This is a weird and scary situation for all of us, including me. So I’m honest about that. We’re also providing resources to help our journalists cope — CDC disease prevention measures, American Red Cross safety tips, a safety advisory from the Committee to Protect Journalists, etc. We care about our people and want them to know it.
I send a note to our entire news staff each day with encouragement, feedback, and updates. Our plan for now is to keep working remotely and to practice social distancing even when reporting stories. We need to report this story responsibly. And we need healthy journalists to report it.