I’ve never written about local news until now. Truthfully, most of my news has come from national outlets over the past few years, but as we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis that affects us on both a national and local level, I’ve been relying more and more on local news sources to find out how things are evolving close to home. One person I turn to over and over again is my friend Kim Kalunian, a reporter and the weekend evening anchor at WPRI 12. Many of us find ourselves having to turn away from the news every now and again due to how intense it can feel, so I wanted to talk to someone who doesn’t have that option to find out what it’s like being in the weeds day after day, and Kim was kind enough to agree to speak with me.
Kevin Broccoli: First off, how are you doing? I wanted to write this because I think people assume journalists are superhuman and can handle being surrounded by the news 24/7 without it having an affect. Does it ever feel overwhelming to you the same way it does the rest of us?
Kim Kalunian: Kevin! Thank you for asking. I’m OK, and I wanted to first say that any stresses and struggles I might be facing day to day in no way compare to those being faced by those who are sick, those who are caring for the sick, the people who have lost their loved ones and haven’t been able to say goodbye, and those who are out of work. So many people are being hit hard by COVID-19, and my heart aches for them all. I’m also really grateful for all the people out there who are putting on brave faces and doing their jobs every day. Life is strange and surreal, and yes, it can feel overwhelming, for multiple reasons. First, this is unprecedented. We’re all humans trying to navigate this. Second, as a reporter, there is SO much information coming out daily, and all of it is important. So on both a personal and professional level, days can be pretty overwhelming, but I’m still incredibly grateful for my job and the fact that I am healthy.
KB: What do you do when you need to decompress? How important is it for you to find ways to do that?
KK: It is so important to find ways to decompress right now. I’ve been finding that outlet through walks around my neighborhood, snuggling with my dog and experimenting in the kitchen (I have figured out a lot of new recipes using things I’ve discovered in my pantry)!
KB: Do you and Ted have a rule about how much you’re allowed to talk about work at home? [Kim’s husband is Ted Nesi, another reporter from WPRI 12 whose been doing incredible work.]
KK: There’s no hard and fast rule, no, but I think both of us can tell when the other has had enough shop talk. When you both work in the same industry, in the same newsroom, and there’s a major health crisis that’s impacted every facet of life, it’s sometimes hard to find anything else to talk about. But we do, and it’s important.
KB: How has your schedule changed since all this started?
KK: The week we learned of the first confirmed case of coronavirus in Rhode Island, I worked pretty much straight through for 10 days. Now, I work a typical five-day week, but on my days off I’m still plugged in, watching the governor’s daily briefing and answering texts and emails. (Although, staying plugged in seven days a week isn’t really atypical.)
Something that has changed is how we work. Most of us at 12 are working remotely. I only go into the studio on Saturdays and Sundays to anchor, which is a change from how things used to be. We’re also working in specific teams to ensure we aren’t coming into contact with different people each day, so most days I only see one other person when I go to work: my photographer, Corey.
KB: I love how you’ve been using Twitter to communicate news in concise, effective ways. This is sort of the first worldwide crisis of the digital age — how do you see the relationship between news and social media evolving as this goes forward?
KK: Thank you! I’m glad that Twitter has been an effective tool. I love social media because it allows people to access and engage with news in a unique way, but it can also be a dangerous source of misinformation and rumor. I highly recommend people educate themselves about the source of information they see posted to social media before deciding if it’s something to take to the bank. Otherwise, there’s a lot of room for fear and confusion to grow.
KB: With so many facets to the current crisis, is it sometimes difficult to figure out which part of it to focus on? Are you concerned that while this is happening there might be other things happening that would normally deserve coverage but can’t get it because of the pandemic, or has the pandemic superseded everything else in a way that feels appropriate?
KK: There have been multiple days — maybe most days? — since this pandemic began where something that could have previously lead the news for a week instead gets boiled down into two or three sentences. Sweeping mandates and changes came so fast and furious, there was no other way to keep up. Because of how all-encompassing COVID has been, I think most of the other topics we’d be reporting on, everything from business to politics to crime, have all been impacted by the virus. So it feels appropriate, at least for now, to be looking at life and news through this new lens. I do wonder, though, when that will start to change.
KB: What was the build-up like leading into this? Do you think journalists had a better idea that this was coming than other people or do you feel like there was an abrupt shift at some point?
KK: I personally don’t feel like I had a better idea this was coming. Yes, I was reading about it and listening to podcasts about it and gosh, even reporting about people buying up N-95 masks in late February. But I didn’t foresee this for whatever reason. I think it really started to become real when we had our first cases, and the governor began to address the public every day. It started to feel different pretty quickly, and before long she was closing restaurants and the casinos, which I think was a pretty clear message to the general population about how serious this thing was.
KB: What was it like adjusting to the new format for press conferences?
KK: I remember the first day we were told we were going to a remote setup. I think my reaction was something like, “They can’t do that!” (But I guess I would have thought that about most of the things that have happened in the past month.) I understand why they’ve decided to do this, but is it ideal? No. Also, people might not realize that in the past few weeks, the governor’s office has started doing a post-briefing conference call with reporters to allow us to ask follow-ups. Still not ideal, but it’s definitely an improvement. I’m really looking forward to when we can be in the same room again. (But then again, who isn’t looking forward to life returning to normal?) I will certainly never take a typical press conference for granted!
KB: This is a story that is playing out on both a local and national level. How do you balance telling the story in terms of what’s happening locally versus what’s happening on the national and even global scale?
KK: This is a great question. My daily assignment has been to focus on the news coming out of the governor’s press conferences, so my job is to make sure Rhode Islanders know what’s happening right now in their own backyard. What flows out of those briefings is having a major impact on hundreds of thousands of people, and my goal each day is to synthesize it. More broadly, our team of reporters and producers are monitoring what’s happening ind Massachusetts, Washington, DC, and around the globe. As a team we’re combining all of those elements into our newscasts so people can have that fuller picture.
The story of this pandemic is unlike anything any of us have dealt with. I really appreciate our viewers (and your readers) for being invested in the content and the process, and for realizing there’s still so much more to learn, so many more questions to answer, and that things are changing and evolving daily. We’re working hard to educate ourselves every day and to pass that knowledge on to our community.