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Graham Media’s WDIV-TV (Detroit) already had 80% of its staff working from home as of this past Monday (3/23). But that number quickly grew to 90% late Monday after morning anchor Evrod Cassimy, feeling ill, checked into a hospital by Tuesday, positive test results for the coronavirus reached the station and by that evening, a cleaning crew was fogging and scrubbing down the studio so the remaining skeleton crew could begin work there again at 4:30 a.m. for the first of the morning’s broadcast hours.
The station, guided by in-house health reporter, Dr. Frank McGeorge and Sarah Mayberry, a senior special projects producer who holds a master’s degree in public health, quickly sprung into action, getting safer working protocols quickly in place. Vice-President and General Manager told TV News Check that McGeorge and Mayberry “have been beacons of information for us.”
Drutz also gives credit to the station’s IT and engineering departments with enabling a fast shift to remote working for most of its staff. “I grew up in a generation where you had to be at work,” she says. “When you thought of people working hard, you figured they were fixed in the physical workspace. I have learned that’s not the case at all.”
Much of the on-air staff been set up at home to broadcast with LiveU units. Reporters and photographers meet in the field for standups and don’t return to the studio, part of a general ramp up of remote production since the pandemic began. Sales, the business office and creative services have all been moved to homes. Traffic and most of the station’s graphics had already been hubbed. Studio shifts were being reduced and some newscasts pared down to a single anchor.
Department heads meet daily on Zoom, which has become of the station’s most beloved tools. Morning meetings are happening there, too. “It used to be in a crowded room with everybody pushed up against the wall and sitting on top of each other,” Drutz says. “Now it’s incredible.”
The station has added an extra half-hour to its 11 p.m. broadcast and is contemplating even more while also producing additional content like an hour-long special on the virus and a series of PSAs led by McGeorge that have been shared across the state through the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.