The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated just how adaptable journalists can be.
Adaptability is something Marcus Harun, a video journalist and producer, learned at a young age.
A very young age.
His first project, a 90-minute documentary in middle school, was picked up by the local cable access station and so impressed leadership there, they gave Harun, at age 14, free reign to do his own show. That effort became 24 News, a student-led news program that eventually found a home on YouTube and became a network of sorts, with student journalists across the United States contributing to a live broadcast.
Harun worked at a Fox affiliate in Connecticut for five years before joining MSNBC 18 months ago, little knowing that the election would be only one essential and fast-breaking story in 2020.
“Election coverage led into an impeachment trial which led into the coronavirus, which led into an uprising pertaining to racial issues, and then coronavirus led into the presidential election,” Harun says. “It’s an amazing time to be at the network level producing news, which is what I was looking for when I started all those years ago.
But he also was quick to notice the significance of the moment. Journalists, as the adage goes, create the first rough draft of history. Seeing the world change around him, minute to minute and day-to-day, as the pandemic took hold meant journalists were also a big part of that historic moment.
Harun is behind the documentary Essential Journalists: How Coronavirus Changed TV News. Based on a series of interviews with reporters at all levels of their career and local and national coverage, Harun explores how reporters were often calling their own shots in real-time when it came to adapting their coverage, and their tools, to meet the pandemic’s demands and restrictions.
“There wasn’t time for the bosses or executive producers or general managers to make decisions of, well this is the way you should do things,” he says. “Journalists just kind of made their own decisions” in order to protect themselves while out in the field, to protect their families at home, and their colleagues in the newsroom or working remotely.
“I think it was even just shocking, just on its face, at the very beginning to see reporters at any level, from local to national, to look up and see reporters in a quad box for team coverage and everyone’s wearing masks,” he says. It was even more startling to realize, every time, that the reporters were in their communities in the United States, not far afield in a foreign country.
It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell talks with Marcus Harun, a producer at MSNBC, about his new documentary, Essential Journalists: How Coronavirus Changed TV News. They discuss the way in which journalists took matters into their own hands to protect their health, and the health of their teams, during the early days of the pandemic.