On the Front Lines with News Producer Kate Eby
An Emmy Award-winning journalist on what it's like to cover the unfolding coronavirus crisis.
In our “On the Front Lines” series, we catch up with M.M. customers who are at the forefront of the fight to understand and contain the coronavirus pandemic. This week, we spoke to Emmy Award winner Kate Eby, who produces the 6pm newscast at ABC-7 in San Francisco. Below, she talks about pacing herself at work, finding professional clarity, and the time she traveled the world in her Lydia dress.
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What does your job generally entail?
TV producing is basically four things: I help choose the stories that reporters go out on; I figure out which ones make it into the show and what the lead story will be each night; I write a lot of the show (although we have writers as well); and then when we’re on air, I’m in the booth running the show—killing stories or moving them as needed, telling the anchors to go longer or shorter, depending on how much time we have. So bringing the show together every day is my job in a nutshell. I’ve been working in news for 14 years, and I’ve been producing for 11 of those years. I started part time and worked my way up, producing different shows at different stations.
How has your work changed since the coronavirus became the central story?
I think I can speak for a lot of my coworkers when I say this is unlike anything we’ve ever covered. We’ve all done breaking news in various forms, but we’ve never had a breaking news situation like this—where it’s so intense and so long. With things like earthquakes or wildfires or shootings, the event happens suddenly, and there’s a big rush of information at the start, and then it slows down and peters out. With this, it’s not just changing every day—it’s every hour. Sometimes we’ll be talking, and we’re like, “That was only two days ago? Are you sure that wasn’t last month?” The pace is overwhelming.
And you’re still going to work every day?
Yes. I’m considered essential in the newsroom, because I need to be at the hub of information and able to communicate in real-time as we run the show. But we’ve also made necessary changes: In the mornings, we always have an editorial meeting, but we do that by phone or video conference rather than in-person now. Every week, there are fewer and fewer people coming into the newsroom, as we figure out how certain jobs can be done from home.
The media is playing such a crucial role right now. What’s it like to have that responsibility in an unfolding crisis?
It’s hard to get perspective when you’re in it, but when I was driving home from work this past week, I had a moment of total clarity: This is what I’m meant to do. This is the purpose of my life. This is my calling. There have been very few other times in my career when I’ve had that clarity. But this moment is unprecedented in so many ways.
What about people who criticize the media or are worried about information overload?
I get frustrated by people who complain about the media and say it’s fear mongering or overblown or hyped up. That’s not our agenda in any way. Our goal is information. This is a public safety issue, and we’re performing a public service. Some people want to avoid the news because it’s scary, and I get that. It is scary, but we can’t hide from it. This crisis personally affects each of us, and you’ve got to pay attention.
So, are you exhausted? Or are you running on adrenaline?
It’s kind of hard to say. I’m just going. I’m a runner, and I do distance runs. So to me, this is like a marathon, except we don’t know the course, and we don’t know what mile we’re on. Sometimes you get tired, but you keep going. Right now, we’re just in the thick of it. But I hope at some point, I’ll be able to look back at this moment and be proud that I played a role in helping keep people safe.
How are you taking care of yourself?
I’m super vigilant about my own health, because I have to be at work on the front lines. I have a role to fulfill. I’m lucky that I have a home that I can come back to where I feel safe and get a good night’s sleep. I’ve been doing a lot of puzzles and re-reading some of my favorite books by Lee Child and Sue Grafton. I live alone, and the social distancing is tough; it’s been weeks since I had a hug from another person. But I have two cats who are getting a lot of hugs these days.
What are you grateful for?
I’ve got a lot of appreciation for my coworkers right now. We’re all in this together, and it feels like people are going out of their way to be kind and to keep things lighthearted and to help each other out. And I’m grateful I’ve got job security. There are a lot of people who can’t say that. There’s an annual book festival here where I usually volunteer, but this year, it got canceled. So I made a donation in honor of all of the authors and books in my life that are helping me out.
Last year, I had this moment where I said, “I want to travel, I’m making good money, I’m single. Let’s do this.” And I did a different trip every month—the California coast, Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy. The Lydia dress came with me everywhere! The fabric is wonderful and it doesn’t wrinkle, so I just rolled it up and threw it in my carry-on. It’s the best because I can dress it up with high heels, but I can also wear it with flats or sandals. I wore it in Paris, Venice, Sydney… I really associate that dress with those trips. And looking back, I’m so glad I traveled when I had the chance.