News anchors are facing a different set of challenges as COVID-19 continues to alter their daily routines. While so much is changing around them, WTVA-Tupelo’s morning anchors Morgan Burger and Daniella Oropeza agree that the best thing they can do is to foster a sense of normalcy for viewers.
Burger and Oropeza are live from the station’s studios every day from 4:30-to-9 a.m. Most of the station’s reporters are working from home, but the two women are simultaneously anchoring and producing the morning news, with their days beginning at 2 a.m. Though not much has changed about their work schedules, they have had to make several adjustments around the newsroom.
“Our desks used to be right behind each other, but now we catch ourselves yelling across the newsroom because of social distancing rules,” says Oropeza.
On the set, Burger acts as the “eyes” and Oropeza acts as the “ears” during their broadcasts, which means Burger controls the teleprompter now for both of them and Oropeza listens to the show for both of them with the one IFB available.
“We don’t have access to both ‘plug in’ because we are now standing away from each other and the desk rather than sitting next to it,” Burger says.
With the exception of a few minor technical difficulties behind the scenes, the two say that their live broadcasts have continued seamlessly during the pandemic.
Though they worry most about what goes on in front of the camera, they’re smart enough to know that they can’t do their best work without taking care of themselves, so they lean on one another.
“As journalists, it’s not our job to insert ourselves in the story, but this situation is about everybody, including us,” says Burger. “It is affecting everybody. You have to motivate each other.”
Burger and Oropeza rely on various morale-boosting tactics while at work. They have stocked the newsroom with snacks for all of the essential staff. During breaks, they enjoy making and watching TikToks for a burst of energy.
“We’ve always been a team, but now it’s like we are working as one unit,” Burger says.
“We are also very aware of how much news we are consuming a day,” says Oropeza. Much of their day revolves around reading online reports and scanning social media. They say it has been difficult for them to strike a balance between spending time on social media for work and for enjoyment.
Burger and Oropeza are like many journalists who feel they have to put the audience first right now, but they know it’s important to also look after their own well being. The Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins and his wife, a psychotherapist, have been offering advice on self-care during the COVID-19 crisis.
Oropeza and Burger get that they need to stay healthy to do their jobs, but they also say it is their responsibility to encourage and motivate their audiences in the midst of uncertainty. “We are their sense of normalcy,” Oropeza says. “We want the viewers to know that we are here, and we are not going anywhere.”
Morgan Burger and Daniella Oropeza are both graduates of the broadcast journalism program at the Unversity of Mississippi.