And That's the News, Live From the Basement

KATV meteorologist Melinda Mayo feels right at home working remotely for Channel 7.
KATV meteorologist Melinda Mayo feels right at home working remotely for Channel 7. (KATV)

Everybody jokes these days about heading to work at the home office in sweatpants, but that’s not an option for local TV news workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Still, KATV meteorologist Melinda Mayo wore something Monday that would have been wildly inappropriate at the regular workplace.

The “Daybreak” co-host teased about it on Twitter, saying she was “doing something I normally don’t do. Do you know what it is?”

The answer was wearing green, a no-no in front of the chroma-key green screen of the weather set.

Mayo also showed off her new ring light, a hot piece of equipment as colleagues scramble for something better than their home offices’ 60-watt lamps.

Veteran Channel 7 weather colleague Barry Brandt is taking most of his shots outside, figuring a brief respite from a crowded house is worth running the risk of the wind blowing over his light stand.

“We have a family of five all trying to work and go to school online at the same time,” Brandt told Arkansas Business. He and Heidi Brandt, assistant director of admissions at Little Rock Christian Academy, have three children at home.

“Internet bandwidth is sometimes a little bit of an issue, especially when I do the 10 p.m. news,” said Brandt, who has been doing the weather in Arkansas for 20 years. “It turns out everybody is using the internet as they stream shows.”

Mayo and Brandt are just two examples of local news team members using connective tech and personal ingenuity to send news and weather reports from their homes to yours.

Shayla Teater, news director at KTHV, Channel 11 in Little Rock, called today’s work-from-home option a “technological miracle,” though not ideal. “I am amazed at what our team has been able to do and how we’ve pulled together to get so many people set up at home.”

Teater’s father, Doug Krile, was a longtime Little Rock anchorman and retired a few years ago as executive director of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association. She said that while reporters and photographers are accustomed to field work, “learning to produce, anchor and do weather from home has been an incredible experience.”

Shayla Teater, news director at KTHV, says a “technological miracle” allows leading a newscast from home.
Shayla Teater, news director at KTHV, says a “technological miracle” allows leading a newscast from home. (KTHV)

Finding solutions and platforms to connect with co-workers has been a daily test, she said. “Things like remote desktop connection, the ability to do live shots from our phones, and simple light kits have helped us make it work quickly.” Craig O’Neill, the five-decade broadcaster who decided in February to again delay his retirement, anchors newscasts from his home in the Heights neighborhood with a background of paintings by his wife, artist Jane Hankins. “I’m surrounded by Jane’s art work and she changes the paintings every day,” O’Neill told Arkansas Business. “I’m also finding that while cleaning house with full repetitive motion the mind is freed up to come up with some creative ideas.”

The videoconferencing and messaging apps Zoom and Slack are crucial for “constant communication,” said Teater, the second female news director ever in the Little Rock market. (Ginger Daril, now at the Sells Agency in Little Rock, took over as news director of KARK in 1999.)

“We do our morning and afternoon editorial meetings on Zoom,” Teater said, leaving the program open for daylong chat. “We use FaceTime for one-on-ones.”

The team at the CBS affiliate has lightened the load by creating funny virtual backgrounds on Zoom. “We even did a station happy hour via Zoom on Friday to talk about not-work … everyone is working so hard to bring accurate and important information to our viewers, but we have to take a second to be human, too.”

The comradeship was evident when a powerful tornado struck Jonesboro on March 28, Teater said. “We were largely all working from home, and I was so proud of how our team pulled together, shooting FaceTime interviews at home, reaching out and getting pictures and video on social media quickly. … It’s certainly a challenge, but one we have all taken head-on.”