Out Of Office: KUT's Digital Team On Collaborating From A Safe Distance

May 5, 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 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.

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

KUT’s Digital News Editor Stephanie Federico and KUT/KUTX’s Multimedia Producer Gabriel Pérez have jobs that look very different from one another. Federico says her job is "99% on the computer," as she edits stories for KUT.org. Pérez is out and about most days shooting photos and videos for KUT and KUTX

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically altered how he approaches his work.

"A lot of times I have to stand far away with a long lens," Pérez said. "That's not really the kind of photojournalism I like to do, but it's sort of necessary right now." 

That necessity has forced him to get a little creative these days.

"With a number of people, I'm able to kind of holler at them and talk across front yards," Pérez said. “I've left a couple of business cards on people's front lawns and then walked away, and they come pick them up."

Despite the differences in their work duties, Federico and Pérez have found themselves missing the same aspects of working in the office.

Although Federico admits she struggles with being easily distracted at work because she can "hear every single conversation that is going on in the newsroom," she is quick to say what she is looking forward to when she no longer has to work from home — seeing her colleagues.

Pérez agrees that things flow more easily when everyone is working out of the same space.

"There's a lot of collaboration between what writers are doing, what multimedia journalists are doing, what our web team is doing, what our editing staff is doing," he said. "Being in person in the office just makes it much more natural to pass off tips, ideas."

Listen to the interview below and read the transcript to hear more about how Federico and Pérez are working remotely — and where they can't wait to go for after-work happy hours when it’s safe to do so again.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Multimedia Producer Gabriel Pérez: Before I leave my apartment each day, I really have to have as many loose ends tied up before I go in terms of where I'm going, when I'm going to pick up gas, the gear I have on me. I do that for all shoots that I do, but now there's definitely a different color to it. In the past, it was very convenient to just pull over if I need to and recheck and grab a bite to eat. Now, I'm really trying to minimize checking in in public places that I don't need to be. 

Really, every day has to be very methodical in terms of the safety precautions and the ethical precautions of really not wanting to step on people's toes or get in the way, but still doggedly trying to do my best to share visual reporting on what's going on, how people are responding.  

KUT: Gabriel, you told me that sometimes you wind up staying in the car to take photos, which is probably not how you'd normally do it, but you have to do that sometimes I guess. 

Pérez: During this, the concern for myself, the concern for my family, the concerns for the subjects mean that a lot of times I have to stand far away with a long lens. That's not really the kind of photojournalism I like to do, but it's sort of necessary right now. With a number of people, I'm able to kind of holler at them and talk across front yards. And I've left a couple of business cards on people's front lawns and then walked away, and they come pick them up. I think what's more important than the need for getting close and for getting intimate is social distancing right now.  

KUT: Stephanie, what about you? Has this situation changed how you do your job every day?  

Digital News Editor Stephanie Federico: Unlike Gabriel, I don't go out. My job is 99% on the computer anyway — editing, looking at a computer screen. So I haven't had to shift that much at all. 

KUT: I'm curious to hear from both of you if there's something you're particularly missing that you really wish you could do that you haven't had a chance to do. We're on Zoom right now, and Stephanie's shaking her head “yes.” Stephanie, what’s that? 

Federico: The pandemic started with South by Southwest being canceled. You know, I'm not really a festival-goer, but I love live music. That is my thing. I had four concerts lined up, and they've all been canceled. And I would just love to go out to Barracuda or Cheer Up Charlies and see a band play. I miss that so much. 

KUT: Gabriel, what about you? Anything that you're particularly missing that you wish you could do right now that we just can't do?  

Pérez: I'm really passionate about my job, and I love the opportunity I have. And a big part of my job is also to work with my colleagues and coworkers in person. There's a lot of collaboration between what writers are doing, what multimedia journalists are doing, what our web team is doing, what our editing staff is doing. Being in person in the office just makes it much more natural to pass off tips, ideas. Check in before I go out for a shoot. Check in once I come back from a shoot. We're still able to do it remotely, but it's not the same. 

KUT: I'm wondering if there's anything, Gabriel, that now you don’t have and you’re like, “Oh, I'm kind of okay with that,” or, “Oh, you know, I didn't really need this as much as I thought I did.” Have you been surprised by anything like that in the past few weeks?  

Pérez: Switching gears to personal life — cooking. My fiancé and I have always enjoyed cooking. I have a particular penchant for baking. We're doing a lot of cooking together. Pretty much all meals are cooked at home whereas in the past, maybe once in a while we might go out or order something. But cooking at home is definitely a great daily tradition.  

KUT: I have to ask: you said “fiancé.” Do you guys have immediate wedding plans? Has this interfered with anything going forward?  

Pérez: We definitely got our certificate as soon as we could before the shelter in place order went out. Right now, it's TBD, but there's definitely a couple ideas being brewed for how we can pull this wedding off in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  

KUT: Stephanie?  

Federico: When I'm in the office, I'm so easily distracted. It's just like any shiny thing. I hear every single conversation that is going on in the newsroom. That's just really always been something I've struggled with, so being at home has allowed me to focus a lot more — except I also focus on the birds outside. My office at home is my kitchen table. I can just look in my backyard all day long, and there are just birds constantly splish-splashing in my birdbath and in my bird feeder. And I just I love it. 

KUT: I know you have some feline assistant editors who I imagine sometimes try to distract you.  

Federico: It's true. They like to sit on my wrists while I'm typing, and it's just like this warm body lying across my arms. They also like to watch the birds, too, but they also sleep a lot. I realize that.  

KUT: I'm curious if you've been thinking about something you'd like to do as soon as we get the OK that we can start resuming some normal activities. Stephanie, have you thought at all about “Oh, yeah — the first place I'm going to go or the first thing I'm to do when it's okay?” 

Federico: I do miss my colleagues. I would love for us to be able to go have a happy hour at Hole in the Wall. It would be lovely. I really kind of worry about all these establishments that I would frequent, and I just hope that everybody's doing okay – and that's something that we'll be able to do when this is all over.  

Pérez: I was going to say the same thing. Go with coworkers to Hole in the Wall, share stories and catch up. But also just have a beer and enjoy being around each other. It's a great group of people to vent with and share experiences — work with and also not work with, too, sometimes. 

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

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