Out Of Office: How Two KUT 'Extroverts' Find Sources And Anchor The News While Social Distancing

Apr 23, 2020

KUT Managing Editor Ben Philpott told the news staff on March 12 almost all of us would be working remotely the next day to practice that routine "just in case."

The next day, the first positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in Austin, and that trial run became the new normal.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we'll be checking in with KUT news staff to hear how they are balancing the professional and personal during these stressful and uncertain times.

KUT's Education Reporter Claire McInerny and Morning Edition News Anchor Nadia Hamdan are both "people" people: They will talk to anyone anywhere about almost anything.

So, they have both had to pretty dramatically adjust how they do their jobs and how they spend their time outside of work.

"Something I love about being a reporter is meeting new people and seeing their environment –and so seeing someone's home, seeing a school," McInerny says. "And I can't do that right now. It's all so far away from me. So, I'm trying to figure out how to get that back by just talking to people digitally."

Hamdan still goes into the KUT studios on a rotating basis to host Morning Edition and says the already-hectic morning routine has become even more so.

"We take turns so that there's only one of us in the office to work the board in the morning and host and do the newscasts at the same time," she says. "Kind of doing things that was a three-person job, and you're having to juggle it on your own."

McInerny and Hamdan agree that while they both miss communicating and socializing in person, they may have gained some insight into how to strike more of a balance in their lives.

"I spent a lot of time being out and about and fluttering about," McInerny says. "I'm kind of learning that I can take a whole day and just relax and be at home and not have to have plans and feel very comfortable and relaxed."

"I think one of the silver linings here is that for me, it's slowed everything down," Hamdan says. "I think the nice thing that I'm going to try to take with me after this is that you can really slow down, and you don't have to do everything all the time."

Listen to the interview below and read the transcript to hear more from them about working remotely and what the first thing they want to do is after when it's safe to be out and about again.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Education Reporter Claire McInerny: I get story ideas and I need sources being out and about. So, I'm at a school doing another story and then a teacher tells me something, or I'm at a school board meeting and I meet a parent who came to talk for public comment. And that's how I build my network – build my understanding of the education world. So being in my apartment at a desk in my bedroom kind of takes a lot of that away. And I have to really go seek people.

I've been leaning a lot on teachers and principals I've met before to kind of check in. Something I love about being a reporter is meeting new people and seeing their environment – and so seeing someone's home, seeing a school. And I can't do that right now. It's all so far away from me. So, I'm trying to figure out how to get that back by just talking to people digitally.  

KUT:  Nadia, what about you? We work together in the mornings, but we actually haven't seen each other several weeks now.

Morning Edition News Anchor Nadia Hamdan: Yeah, mine's a little different. I'm not usually out in the field as much as Claire is. I'm usually in the office alongside you and Dani [Matias], our producer. So for me, the main thing that I've had to get used to is working from home, which I really never do. Even before this all happened, if I needed to work, I would go to a café. I live in a very small studio apartment and don’t have a lot of table space. So I've always felt it’s really hard for me to focus at home, but I've definitely gotten over that.

And you and I have kind of been tag-teaming it because I still do get to go into the office. We take turns so that there's only one of us in the office to work the board in the morning and host and do the newscasts at the same time – kind of doing things that was a three-person job and you're having to juggle it on your own.

But I would say I think the saddest thing: Our office is usually full of people by 8 or 9 in the morning. And it's definitely pretty strange to walk out of the studio at 10 and see it so empty.  

KUT: Everybody is in the same boat of needing to stay home as much as possible, except for only essential things. Is there something that you're really missing that you wish you could do that you're just not able to do right now? Nadia, anything that you just say, oh, I really miss this?

Hamdan: First and foremost, my family for sure. I mean, they're all in Dallas and I miss them a lot. But in terms of my life here, I've always been a really active person in the sense that I'm rarely at my house. I get off at 1, so I'll usually go places. I have my regular cafes, my regular bars, my regular places; I like to go thrifting or go to the movies. And within each of those places, even if I'm just going there to sit alone with people, I'll be reading or listening to a podcast. Because I'm a regular, I get to know the people that work there.

I just really miss talking to people and then the prospect of meeting new people when you go out to these kinds of places. And I feel like I haven't been able to do that.  

KUT: Claire, what about you? Anything you're particularly missing these days?

McInerny: Very specifically, I kickbox and do muay thai and I miss it so much. It was the best stress reliever to just kick and punch stuff. And if I've ever been more stressed in my life, and I needed to kick and punch – it was right now.

Like Nadia, too, I'm a huge extrovert. I also live alone in a small apartment, which was always fine because I wasn't here a lot. I came here to relax and go to bed. So now it's become everything. I just miss my friends. Every time I do go to H-E-B, I'm like, “Tell me your life story” to the person checking me out. 

KUT: Is there anything, though, that you've learned or discovered during this time that you can kind of live without or that you used to think, "Oh, my gosh, this is so important"? And now that we don't have it, you're like, "Oh, I'm OK without it." Claire, anything come to mind for that?  

McInerny:  I have kind of focused more on the simple pleasures. I'm watching a movie now and I'm truly trying to put myself in that movie because I've been in my apartment all day. Last night I was watching The Social Network and they had these wide shots of Boston. “Oh, my God. Look at those old buildings.” This is an escape for a little bit.

I spent a lot of time being out and about and fluttering about. And I'm kind of learning that I can take a whole day and just relax and be at home and not have to have plans and feel very comfortable and relaxed.

KUT: Nadia, anything that you're learning that's actually not so bad to be without this?

Hamdan: I think one of the silver linings here is that for me, it's slowed everything down. I think I kind of overschedule myself. And so with this, I've learned to live without a lot of things. And that's kind of forced me to really appreciate the little things that are actually within my reach. Walking outside in Pease Park near my house – I really, really, really relish those walks. I do yoga every day, and I'm way more present than I was before when I was doing yoga and then running to the next thing and running to the next thing.

Of course, you know, I still miss a lot of those things. But I think the nice thing that I'm going to try to take with me after this is that you can really slow down and you don't have to do everything all the time. You can really just appreciate one small thing in that day.  

KUT: Have you been thinking about once it's safe to be out and about again and doing things again – have either of you thought about what the first thing is you want to do when it's OK?

McInerny: I’m going to hug Nadia.

Hamdan: Oh, my God, I can't wait to hug Claire. We used to hug every day in the office. It was a thing.

McInerny: In the morning, I’d walk in and give her a hug. And we both live alone so, you know, there's no hugs happening, so I can’t wait to hug my friend.

Got a tip? Email Jennifer Stayton at jstayton@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @jenstayton

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