Wary Journalists Return to a Reopened South Carolina Newsroom

Staff members at one of South Carolina’s largest newspapers reported to the office on Monday after more than two months of working remotely. With the number of Covid-19 cases hitting new highs in the state, many of them said they were wary of going back.

Employees at The Post and Courier, a locally owned daily in Charleston with a paid weekday circulation of about 40,000, had been doing their jobs from home since the second week of March to guard against the spread of the coronavirus. Early last month, the publisher and the top editor announced a limited reopening, telling its more than 250 employees, including more than 60 journalists, to work at least one day a week in the office. On Monday, staff members were asked to return full time, and they complied, although some said they had concerns about potentially exposing themselves to the virus.

“I believe that the workplace is a safe place to be at the moment, but I understand why others are concerned,” Mitch Pugh, the executive editor, said in an interview. “There’s also no question we do better when we can talk to each other.”

More than 12,400 Covid-19 cases have been reported in South Carolina, with 500 deaths attributed to the virus in the state. The seven-day average of new cases reached a high on Tuesday for the fifth day in a row, the paper reported.

The state was among the last to issue a stay-at-home order and among the first to begin the reopening process, on April 20. The stay-at-home orders issued by Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, expired on May 4. Many of the newspaper’s full-time employees worked in the office through the lockdown period, Mr. Pugh said, since the state had deemed the paper an essential business.

As businesses across the country puzzle over how to bring workers back safely, The Post and Courier is requiring employees to have their temperatures checked at the entrance by a no-contact scanner. Anyone with a reading of 99.4 degrees or greater is not allowed into the building. Employees are encouraged, although not required, to wear protective masks while working indoors.

On Tuesday, staff members received a memo from Evening Post Industries, which owns The Post and Courier and other newspapers in the state. “Neither the state of South Carolina, nor Charleston County, nor the city of Charleston have a mandate in place, and therefore we cannot force people to wear masks,” the memo said. “Within the newspaper division, we strongly recommend wearing a mask to help keep each other protected.”

The memo added that employees who felt uncomfortable about returning should use paid time off to stay away from the office.

Five newsroom employees said in interviews that they felt they were required to work in the office and were worried that the safety measures did not go far enough. The concerns of Post and Courier employees were previously reported by The Daily Beast and the media news website Poynter.

The staff members spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity. A few noted the firing of an audience engagement producer, Kristen Kornbluth, as an example of the consequences they could face for publicly criticizing their employer.

As part of her job, Ms. Kornbluth was charged with approving comments that appeared in a private Facebook group for subscribers, she said. On May 6, a reader submitted a comment expressing concern about the newspaper’s decision to have its employees go back to the office. The reader’s comment included a link to a May 1 Poynter article headlined “The Post and Courier is requiring staff return to the newsroom, leaving its reporters angry and frustrated.” Ms. Kornbluth, who said she shared the concerns, approved the comment.

“I knew it was going to be a provocative action,” Ms. Kornbluth said. “I did not think at all that it could lead to termination.”

  • Updated June 2, 2020

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • How do we start exercising again without hurting ourselves after months of lockdown?

      Exercise researchers and physicians have some blunt advice for those of us aiming to return to regular exercise now: Start slowly and then rev up your workouts, also slowly. American adults tended to be about 12 percent less active after the stay-at-home mandates began in March than they were in January. But there are steps you can take to ease your way back into regular exercise safely. First, “start at no more than 50 percent of the exercise you were doing before Covid,” says Dr. Monica Rho, the chief of musculoskeletal medicine at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago. Thread in some preparatory squats, too, she advises. “When you haven’t been exercising, you lose muscle mass.” Expect some muscle twinges after these preliminary, post-lockdown sessions, especially a day or two later. But sudden or increasing pain during exercise is a clarion call to stop and return home.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      More than 40 million people — the equivalent of 1 in 4 U.S. workers — have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic took hold. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


She said she had been called into Mr. Pugh’s office and fired. Mr. Pugh declined to comment on a personnel matter. In Ms. Kornbluth’s termination letter, which The Times reviewed, The Post and Courier called her approval of the comment “an immensely serious error in judgment.”

Thousands of journalists across the country have been laid off, been furloughed or received pay cuts in the economic fallout related to the pandemic. Ms. Kornbluth said she thought her firing sent a message to colleagues at a time when jobs in the news media are scarce.

“I think that people are kind of worried that if they express any sort of dissent publicly, then this can happen to them, too,” she said.

Source link

Latest

SAS, the Scandinavian airline, files for bankruptcy protection after pilots strike.

A day after its pilots went on strike, SAS,...

How scientists are shifting their search for links between diet and dementia

The internet is rife with advice for keeping the...

Deputy Victorian Nationals leader Steph Ryan to quit politics

Deputy Victorian Nationals leader Steph Ryan will announce her...

SAS, the Scandinavian airline, files for bankruptcy protection after pilots strike.

A day after its pilots went on strike, SAS, the Scandinavian airline, said on Tuesday that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection...

Nuclear Power Gets New Push in U.S., Winning Converts

Ms. Capito has argued that coal-fired power plants, which have been closing as the nation moves away from fossil fuel sources, could become sites...

Germany Posts First Monthly Trade Deficit in 30 Years

BERLIN — For the first time in more than three decades, Germany has posted a monthly trade deficit, the most recent sign that Europe’s...