TV Stations Still on the Job Despite Virus

Logos of WXII, WGHP and WFMY TV stations

Map of Piedmont Triad showing WXII, WGHP and WFMY TV stations
The year was 1928 and Philo Farnsworth was in a celebratory mood as he and his wife Penn took a leisurely drive back home to Los Angeles from San Francisco, where he had just secured financial backing for his new invention. Though it would be another twenty years before the masses could appreciate Philo’s gift to them, he had a vision for how television would impact their lives. Turning to Penn, Philo predicted that TV would become the world’s greatest teaching tool, and that people would be able to watch news as it happened. Farnsworth would be proud to know that his invention is coming through in a crisis.

Each day as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow and claim lives, our local television stations keep us abreast of the latest developments, including ever- changing guidelines and closings, as well as ways to protect ourselves. It is a daunting task because those who gather and report the news must do so without putting themselves at risk. I wondered how Triad-area television stations were operating under such pressure, and how this health crisis is affecting the way they do business in general. For answers, I reached out to three general managers, Michelle Butt (WXII), Jim Himes (WGHP) and Larry Audas (WFMY).

 


Longworth: What precautions have you taken to protect your employees against the spread of the Coronavirus, and have those measures affected the way you do business?

Audas: We value the well-being of our WFMY News 2 family, and took a number of cautionary steps early on. We have taken further steps since, and now, most station duties including news and sales, are being done remotely, away from the station. All sales work, for example, is carried out by staffers in their respective homes. Reporters, photographers, some producers and anchors are also working away from the building. Whether in the field or among a limited number of staff, we are maintaining strict social distancing guidelines on who and what we contact, and we are not entertaining guests inside the station. All of this has prompted a series of technological changes for a business that is part of the electronic media, but our technical folks have helped us achieve a working model aimed to carry WFMY News 2 through the days ahead.

Butt: We have full departments working remotely including sales, marketing, business, and programming. Our reporters and photographers also no longer come into the station for work. We have isolated other employees in the building by re-configuring work spaces or access to certain areas of the building, and have shrunk our footprint personnel-wise by producing newscasts differently.

Himes: As with all local businesses we’re working to minimize the risk to our employees and the public. We are working remotely whenever possible and reinforcing proper hygiene to all employees, and including those messages on air and on line. We’re also using technology to practice social distancing in our news gathering, as well as for internal meetings at the station.

Longworth: Have area lock-downs, closings, and cancellations affected your bottom line and viewership?

Audas: Viewership is up as the crisis has brought most of the community together, seeking more and detailed information on local and national developments. Traffic to our website and our social sites has never been more robust. As such, some advertisers, like home repair, and carry out restaurants, have found customers seeking their services. Others are not open, and their advertising has been delayed until they reopen.

Butt: Viewing is up, both locally and nationally. People are hungry for information. It’s why we carry all of our federal, State, and local news conferences, and have expanded our local late news product Monday through Friday.

Himes: Our news viewership is up by 15% to 40%, and online page views in the 50% to 70% range. In all matters of great importance, viewers turn to their local broadcasters for news that impacts their lives. Just as during the September 11th attacks, the 2008 recession, tornadoes and floods, FOX8 is here to serve and inform. Those events also reshaped the landscape for our local businesses, so we are working diligently to help our partners as they work through difficult times.

Longworth: What role should local TV stations and news operations play during a crisis of this nature?

Audas: WFMY News 2 is working to connect our community. That’s our mission on any given day, but now more than ever. Everything we do is about our viewers, digital users, customers and friends in the community. Information is at a premium, and we are working to make sure we deliver for the Piedmont Triad each and every day.

Himes: It is our mission to be there with accurate and up to date information in order to keep communities informed and safe. As such, part of our coverage has included broadcasting and streaming daily briefings from federal, State, and local officials.

Butt: It is our job as local broadcasters to offer resources, like how your family can access food, or how you can receive help as a small business person. And when this ends, we will be on the front lines of the recovery effort. From helping businesses reestablish their footprint, to helping our non-profits fill the gaps that lost income brings about. Our job is to serve in the best interest of our community, and that’s something all of us here at WXII and WCWG are proud to be a part of.



 

Philo Farnsworth envisioned television as a resource for helping people and keeping them informed. Now, over ninety years later, our local TV news stations are staying true to that vision in the most difficult of times.

 
 

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