Newsrooms Slowly Returning To Normal

May 28, 2021

Thursday June 3 update: After a "gradual re-integration" in May, "the FOX19 Now news team is now back to full staffing levels in the building," says Steve Hyvonen, WXIX-TV news director.

"The last year was filled with unique challenges and adjustments.  We found new and creative ways to cover and deliver the news," he says.

WKRC-TV's meteorologists returned to the studio Tuesday, June 1, after 15 months. Chief meteorologist John Gumm did his final broadcasts from home Monday night.

"I'm honestly not looking forward to the driving, but I am looking forward to seeing my Local 12 family in person again," Gumm wrote on Facebook.

Original post Friday May 28: Meteorologists Steve Horstmeyer and Steve Raleigh are back broadcasting from the TV studio instead of from their homes.

Jen Dalton returns to the WKRC-TV studio next week after doing Good Morning Cincinnati traffic reports from her basement.

Expect to see more TV journalists return to their workplace as local media companies slowly lift coronavirus pandemic restrictions which forced most reporters and producers to work from home since March last year.

"It's been a great run in the basement, but starting next Tuesday, June 1st, we will back at the station! What a long strange trip it's been. Thanks for your patience and understanding," Dalton wrote on Facebook this week.

It's been a strange trip, indeed. When I wrote about the stay-at-home order May 7 last year, WKRC-TV General Manager Jon Lawhead said he expected that "we’ll have everyone back in the studio in a couple of weeks."

Finally, on June 2 Ohioans will no longer need to wear masks if they have received the COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Mike DeWine announced May 17. He also lifted attendance restrictions effective June 2, which the Reds will celebrate June 2 with Re-Opening Day.

After a year working at his Madisonville home, WXIX-TV Chief Meteorologist Steve Horstmeyer returned to the Fox 19 studio in April 5, when his Pfizer vaccination took full effect.

"It required approval of our general manager and Gray corporate," said Hortsmeyer, referring to owner Gray Television.

"While working from home was nice, enough was enough. My office ended up with a large ceiling leak and a big section of 100-year-old plaster fell due to an ice jam in the inaccessible gutter," Horstmeyer said, "We worked hard … and tried to give the viewer at least something close to 'normal.'  Not everyone was amused when our rescue dogs would break into a riotous barking session while I was on air."

Most TV meteorologists – except for those at WLWT-TV – had worked from home for more than a year. As of Friday, all of WKRC-TV's forecasters were still working at home.

It could be months before newsrooms fully return to pre-pandemic levels.

"Our biggest priority remains the safety of our employees. We've had a limited number of staff members return to the office over the last few weeks as cases of COVID decrease, (as) more people are getting vaccinated and restrictions are eased. The majority of our staff is not working in our building at this time," said Jeff Brogan, Channel 9 vice president and general manager.

"We're going to be announcing a plan in the coming weeks that will include a three-phase plan in getting employees back. The details of that plan are still being worked out as we assess CDC recommendations and review feedback from our employees," Brogan said.

At Cincinnati Public Radio's WVXU-FM news staffers "can return on a voluntary basis starting in June, and then come back to the office regularly August 1," says Maryanne Zeleznik, vice president for news and news director.

Four new reporters hired during the pandemic (Cody Sharber, Jolene Almendarez, Nick Swartzell and Becca Costello) have been working from home, instead of in one large newsroom inside the Crosley Telecommunications Center, west of Music Hall. In the past year, WVXU has provided separate offices for reporters with doors that can be closed, Zeleznik said.

Some changes made in the past year could become permanent in the new normal.

"Like many companies, we've learned a lot over the last year and are taking into consideration those lessons moving forward," Brogan said.

WVXU managers and staff "learned a lot during the pandemic about how people can adapt and work from home as needed," Zeleznik said. "I see this happening in the future, especially if someone is covering stories near their homes, there's no reason to come to the office first, or come back here to write. That can all be done at home. We can much more easily have our daily news meeting online so everyone can participate … As we did with the pandemic we will adapt as we go now that we know we have the capability to do so."