LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The pandemic has changed the way journalists are able to do their jobs but the commitment to the facts, fairness and transparency remains the same for a core group of reporters at KTNV, 13 Action News.
We followed Reporter Jeremy Chen for an entire shift to document each of the hurdles and challenges each unique day presents.
Chen joined the station in Sept. 2019 and works the "dayside" shift which means he officially gets on the clock at 10 a.m., the same time a morning editorial meeting begins which includes other reporters, anchors, producers, assignment desk personnel, web staff, and a variety of station management.
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"I'm starting the morning meeting, I have some story ideas, possible stories ready to go," said Chen as he cleaned off his laptop.
The morning meeting is meant to provide an overview of the news events that have already been covered, events yet to happen, other planning matters, and a required discussion of story ideas that are pitched by reporters and other staff.
"They have probably the second most prolific cockroach infestation I have ever seen in my Dirty Dining history," said 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears, referencing a recent Dirty Dining report.
Chen pitched a few story ideas and was assigned a story about a disaster declaration at a local hospital after a surge in patients pushed capacity over 100%.
The meeting stretches on for almost an hour and around 11 a.m., Chen begins reaching out to several area hospitals to see if they are experiencing a similar situation and what plans are in place to deal with patient care amid spikes in demand brought on by COVID-19.
Chen is told he will create a story for the 5 p.m. broadcast and present it live and the story will air during the 6:30 p.m. newscast and he will have to prerecord an on-camera introduction and tag.
While hospital public relations personnel arrange possible interviews, Chen takes a moment to eat a $1 can of soup at his apartment around 11:30 a.m.
The break does not last more than 10 minutes before the interviews begin falling into place.
A UNLV professor has agreed to a virtual interview at 12:30 p.m., and Sunrise Hospital has made an official available to speak shortly after that.
Chen is a multi-media journalist, or MMJ, which means he also shoots his own video and interviews.
Chen quickly loads up his camera equipment into his personal vehicle, a safety COVID-19 protocol, and drives to a park to conduct the virtual interview.
The use of personal cars is to ensure social distancing amid the pandemic and staff are reimbursed for miles driven.
After that he proceeds to Sunrise Hospital and gets an unexpected, but welcomed surprise.
"Usually this doesn't happen at all but today was a particularly lucky day, a photographer was available and he's going to help me shoot this interview at the hospital," said Chen.
"It's a rare occurrence, usually I'd be doing it myself," added Chen.
Long-time KTNV-TV Photojournalist Jim Flint will shoot the interview and video of the hospital and Jeremy can focus on asking questions and getting the facts.
"Did you have a plan in place to ensure like your system your doctors your nurses are not overwhelmed especially with however many patients are coming in?" asked Chen
"Yes, we have a surge plan," explained Dr. Steven Merta, Sunrise Hospital Chief Medical Officer.
The information gathered from hospital authorities begins to build the foundation of the story Jeremy is creating but the news building process is lengthy.
"We are going to go to St. Rose [San Martin,]" said Chen to Jim Flint.
"You're going to St. Rose?" asked Flint.
"Yeah, because that's where the emergency declaration was," explained Chen.
"You can download this [camera memory card] as you're getting ready to leave," said Flint.
"Yep, yep we can do that, sounds like a plan," remarked Chen.
A drive across the city brings Jeremy to St. Rose San Martin Campus near Buffalo Drive and the 215 beltway where he will work just off the hospital's property and begin tasks to assemble his story.
"I just finished up sending an update to the newsroom because communication is key in the communication business," explained Chen.
KTNV reporters are required to check in with the managers and supervisors throughout the day.
This is to ensure the assigned story is coming together and progressing in time for the assigned broadcast slot.
Jeremy has to review and listen to the interviews gathered and pulls out key portions called "soundbites," which are then used to construct the script for his TV story.
Around 4 p.m., Chen reaches out to his supervisor, KTNV-TV Managing Editor George Kiriyama, to review his script and approve it.
"I'm going to change 'a person' to 'someone' that way when we get to that part, it makes a lot more sense," said Kiriyama while reviewing the script for simplicity and clarity.
The script approval process is crucial to make sure the news is accurate and includes all of the necessary information.
"We're making sure that we are accurate with our information," said Chen.
"He wanted to check on me, on where I got the information from," added Chen.
The day comes with another surprise and management informs Jeremy he must now produce a second, separate story for the 6 p.m. newscast and he has to present it live.
The change means Jeremy must now "split" his story into two separate and distinct topics and doubles the workload.
"You're up against it now, It's almost 4 o'clock, about an hour until showtime, what happens now?" asked Reporter Joe Bartels
"Now I have to track the story, once I'm done tracking, I have to start editing the story on my laptop here, send it over to the station and once I get all that done, then I'm going live," explained Chen.
Jeremy has to work fast to make his deadline.
He uses his cell phone to "track" or speak his prerecorded portion of his story.
Once the editing is complete, he sends the video file to the station via the internet.
Around 4:50 p.m., Chen and Flint have to prepare for the live broadcast.
KTNV-TV reporters use cell phones to connect an IFB (Interruptible Feedback) line to listen to the live broadcast.
13 Action News uses backpack transmitters that are capable of transmitting live video from the camera via cell phone towers.
The show begins and the anchors toss to Jeremy live in the field where he presents his live report.
His story lasts 1 minute and 33 seconds.
Immediately following the conclusion of his report at 5 p.m., the process begins again for the 6 p.m., with even less time to accomplish the same amount of work.
13 Action News journalists also have to produce stories for streaming and on-demand-services in addition to the TV stories.
Jeremy shoots this just 5 minutes before the top of the 6 p.m. broadcast.
We spoke to Jeremy just after his 6 p.m. report.
"How do you feel?" asked Reporter Joe Bartels.
"A little bit exhausted mentally and a little bit physically, it's a stressful job but very much worth it," said Chen.
Around 6:30 p.m., the day is still not over and Chen has more responsibilities to complete.
Chen has not had access to a restroom in more than 6 hours and a lunch break was deemed a luxury and not a necessity due to the day's timing.
Chen returns to his apartment and stores his camera equipment inside for safety and security.
He must now produce the written version of his story for the station's website and online platforms.
"That's the life of a multi-media journalist, not just on-air, but online," said Chen.
Jeremy is also responsible for writing a shorter version of his story for later newscasts and is required to write an "end of shift" note to the newsroom which contains additional details, unused interviews, and possible follow-up stories in the coming hours or days.
"What time did you technically start working today?" asked Reporter Joe Bartels.
"Technically, I started working, I clocked in at 10 a.m., but if we want to talk about how I prepared, I prepared at like 9:15 a.m.," said Chen.
Journalism is a profession that's taxing, time-consuming and can be dangerous.
But it requires passion, courage and determination so others can be informed about their world.