Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

Reporting during a pandemic

Univision reporter, Vilma Tarazona.

When Miami-based Univision reporter Vilma Tarazona arrived at the home of a migrant family in late March, she put on her gel mask and disinfected the tangled microphone cables before walking up to the front door.

Tarazona was there to interview Teresita Rosales, the mother of 42-year-old Kenia — a disabled woman who has the cognitive capacity of a 2-year-old. Kenia was admitted to an intensive care unit at Palmetto General Hospital in late January after contracting a severe case of influenza. But recent bans on hospital visits due to coronavirus has prevented Rosales from seeing her daughter.

“Now she must be thinking, ‘Where is my mommy?,” the devastated mother told Tarazona during the hour-long interview.

Tears rushed down Tarazona’s mask. She instinctively approached the woman to offer her a hug, but quickly pulled back. The reporter remembered that the strict health protocols put in place by Univision would only let her come within 6 feet of anyone she interviewed.

Tarazona is among thousands of journalists across the country who has had to adapt to stark changes in coverage amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When a crisis of this magnitude occurs, the journalist always has to run to the site of the crisis,” said Tarazona, who spoke in Spanish.

As government officials continue to crack down on large crowds, news networks have had to reduce the number of employees that work in the studio.

Univision President Daniel Coronell slashed newsroom capacity from 500 staffers to 20 on March 25 after two employees tested positive for coronavirus last month.

In trying to curb the spread of COVID-19, Coronell said all reporters, with the exception of a few in the field, would work remotely.

“I was on my way back to the studio from an interview when I received an email announcing that a second case of coronavirus had been confirmed in Univision,” said Tarazona. “Until further notice, only the ‘skeleton crew’ would be needed in-studio.”

The internal email said news headquarters were closed “temporarily in order to provide intensive deep cleaning” of the infected person’s workstation. To implement additional safeguards, security screenings were placed at entry points.

Univision reporter Andrea Linares, who is also based in Miami, said she was used to traveling with her cameraman in the passenger seat. Now, she sits in the back while he drives.

“We work together in person when necessary, — always obeying the 6- feet- apart rule,” said Linares. “Most reporters are editing remotely, but the skeleton crew is meeting in the parking lot to handle production.”

Most Univision shows are now broadcast from reporters’ homes and the parking lots of the network’s two studios. Univision headquarters has stayed open to air two evening programs and its early morning show — but only a handful of cameramen and anchors are allowed in the building.

For Tarazona, these changes have been unpredictable — but she considers it her social duty to keep informing the public.

“We cannot hide in moments of crisis,” she said. “Our audience — especially those who are undocumented — needs us.”

Maria Olloqui is an undergraduate journalism student at NYU.


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