Toddler: What is that? What is that?
Jordan: This is my podcasting equipment.
Toddler: Can I look at it?
Jordan: Yeah. You can look at it.
Toddler: It’s so cool. That looks like a ball. It looks like a little ball.
Mom: Yeah. The microphone does look like a little ball.
Jordan: This is what daddy’s going to be using to do his work.
Toddler: Daddy, but do you want to play with my toys? Daddy, do you want to play with my toys?
Jordan: Well, I’m going to do this work right now.
Jordan: Okay. I think it works. Can you hear me, Claire?
Claire: I can hear you. Can you hear me?
Jordan: I can. We’re remote. Where are you right now? Claire?
Claire: So I am at home right now. I’m sitting actually on the floor of my bedroom closet. Uh, I have a stool in front of me with my laptop on it. And then above me is a shelf where I’ve put my phone and my flashlight is on so that I can see. Um, and yeah, I’m just sitting on my floor with a microphone in my hand. What’s your makeshift studio like?
Jordan: I’m in what could best be described as a converted alcove next to our washer and dryer in the basement. We moved out a clothes horse and some garbage that was kicking around in the spare room. And I’ve got my laptop and my microphone and my Zoom recorder set up on top of a chest of drawers that, uh, contains a number of things, including right now, uh, some canned food, of course.
Jordan: And this is where The Big Story is live for the foreseeable future.
Claire: Yeah. Are you ready to do this podcast remotely like this for a little while?
Jordan: I am. I think, uh it’s us doing our part. Um, everybody should be socially distancing and we can, because we can take the show on the road, so to speak. And I think that’s the smart thing to do. And I think it sets a good example.
Claire: Yeah. And you know, it’s not just us two on the show. Do you want to maybe tell our listeners about the other people on the team and how this is all going to work out for the next little while?
Jordan: They are also at home. In fact, they’re listening to us right now. They’re patched in remotely. They’re checking our levels, and Ryan Clarke and Stefanie Phillips are making sure that everything sounds good and Annalise Nielsen is at home ready to get the title and the description and the social media feeds working so that we can get news and stories to you every day that we’re in lockdown and you’re in lockdown and we’ll be here.
Claire: Yeah. We are so lucky that we’re able to work from home. And I think it’s really important that we take advantage of that at a time like this.
Jordan: Everybody should be, but not everybody can. Claire, you used to be a news anchor, didn’t you?
Claire: I did, at 680 News in Toronto.
Jordan: Well, why don’t we start off the top with you, uh, dipping into your old job and quickly reading us the news. Let us know, as of 6:00 PM on Sunday, what’s been happening for the last few days?
Claire: So Sunday afternoon, we heard from Dr. Theresa Tam, who is Canada’s top public health officer. Uh, she called COVID-19, a serious public health threat, and basically said that we cannot afford to wait until this gets any worse.
News Clip: With cases rapidly increasing in Canada, particularly in British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta, our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow.
Claire: So in total, as of Sunday, Canada has 316 cases of the Coronavirus. Most of those are still in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta. There are more closures as well, including all OLG casinos in Ontario. In Quebec, the premier there is ordering all bars and movie theaters to close. The Canadian government is telling Canadians traveling abroad to get home as soon as they can, because as COVID-19 continues to sprea, we don’t know what kind of travel restrictions will be put in place. And the last thing you want, I’m sure, is to end up stuck somewhere during all of this. And finally, when it comes to the grocery store issue with empty aisles, the message there remains the same. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, stock up, have enough so that you don’t need to keep going to the grocery store, but also don’t go overboard because everyone needs groceries and the shelves will be restocked.
Jordan: So yes, it’s a little scary out there. And hopefully you’re listening to this while you’re safe and healthy, at home. We are also safe at home and now we’re here with you. I’m going to tell you what we’re doing today and tomorrow and probably for a while. We’re changing what we do, the same way that everybody is. There’s nothing that COVID-19 hasn’t impacted, and we wanted to, first of all, be as safe as all the experts are telling us, and you, to be. And secondly, we wanted as a podcast to be on your level. Like I said, we wanted to be here for you and with you as much as we can be. That means that maybe unlike the news, we’ll be bringing you the same stories that you’re living with from the same places you’re living with them. We’ll be working from home just like many of you with all the added toddler interruptions and cats on keyboards and make-shift laundry room offices and teleconferencing that that entails. One of the reasons we’re doing this is because we’re a podcast. We might have started in fancy studios, but podcasting at its heart is a do-it-yourself endeavour. It began with passionate people, hunched over microphones and laptops in basements and converted closets around the world, telling their stories and putting them out there. And that’s what we’re going to do. A global pandemic as a news topic is frightening. Our day-to-day reality, though, is only as terrifying as we make it. And we’re here to make it less terrifying for you, with accurate information, proper context to the screaming headlines, good advice from smart people, and windows inside how the people in the middle of this are doing their jobs. We look at the big picture on this show, but when the big picture is literally the entire world, everyone’s own big picture becomes the little one, right in front of them. Their everyday world is what really matters. What’s happening down my street? How are my neighbours doing? Are they safe? How can I…? What should I do if…? And that’s where we’ll try to help. Today, day one, we’ll start with information. You heard Claire and I off of the top, tell you where we are right now. I’ll tell you quickly where we usually are when you hear my voice. We record this podcast in the Rogers radio studios in downtown Toronto. Specifically, we share booths and state-of-the-art equipment with our friends at 680 News. It’s amazing, it’s kind of a perfect setup. But we’re not in those studios right now. Our friends at 680, though, are basically living in them. As this crisis develops, as communication becomes even more important, you might have forgotten about your little local news radio station. I say little, not because 680 is little, but because there are little local news radio stations across this country. And in some communities they are one of the last newsrooms standing. Even though I hope this whole mess is over tomorrow, I don’t think it will be. Which means a lot of people in Canada are about to find out how important, fast, accurate, local news really is. So do you want to know how they do it when the shit really hits the fan? We asked them. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. This is The Big Story. Amber Leblanc is the news director at 680 News in Toronto outside of public health officials, she is probably one of the busiest women in Toronto. Hi Amber.
Amber: Hey Jordan.
Jordan: How are you?
Amber: I’m okay. Uh, nothing feels real anymore. So there’s that. But you know, I just keep telling myself, we are going to get through this. We are going to get through this. And that’s been my kind of mantra to everybody.
Jordan: Well, why don’t you just describe, I guess, your newsroom right now. What’s it like in there?
Amber: It’s– everyone’s just incredulous. You know, like we, we are breaking news, traffic and weather. We deal with breaking news all the time. We’re a group of people that have been kind of in the business so long that nothing fazes us, really. I mean, it takes a lot. Um. And we’re all kind of shook by just the, the onslaught of things that seem to be impossible that have happened. Like sports has been canceled and school has been canceled and everything’s being canceled. And even then this cancel-culture, everything is just seeming like, is this real? And when we’re at work, it just feels like, you know, it’s a, it’s a game and we’re playing it and we’re, we’re getting the information on. And then you go home and you’re like, wow, that is not a game. It’s real. How does this affect my family? And then it’s like, Oh, it’s a little bit of anxiety. So to deal with our own anxiety, while at the same time performing what we feel is an essential service, to bring, you know, the information that people need in order to feel safe, which is the most important thing at this point.
Jordan: Right. And I guess, well first let’s talk about the specifics of what you guys are doing and then we’ll talk about, uh, how it’s impacting everybody. But how does the day to day in the newsroom change when there’s essentially, I guess, only one story to cover?
Amber: Well, it was interesting because on Wednesday, um, we call it the day before the world exploded, we, you know, we had talked about, um, our coverage of coronavirus and whether or not it was feeling like an onslaught to people. Um, because we’re parents too, like we’re parents, we’re people. We don’t, we’re not in the fear-mongering game. We’re just in the information game. So we felt like, okay, is this too much? Is it feeling like an onslaught? Let’s just try to make sure that we’re checking ourselves and being responsible, um, and not contributing to anyone feeling like the world is unsafe, but just giving people the facts. And then on Thursday, you know, then when all the sports happened and the schools happened, and then, you know, it was the only story that we could responsibly talk about. So it’s changed a little bit in that, um, although we’re looking for, we’re looking to tell all the stories of the day and news that’s important to you and news that you can use for your family, this has taken over. And so we are, you know, we’re desperately trying to make sure that we have perspective and we’re not getting caught up, but it’s really, really hard when there’s nonstop major bombshells happening about things that impact you and your family. So it’s, it’s just crazy.
Jordan: Tell me about that moment on Thursday when everything changed. Do you remember it? Uh, did you have a conversation with anyone in the newsroom? Did you sort of shift direction right away?
Amber: Yeah, I was talking to, um, my assistant news director, Patrick Luciani, and he is a new dad and he has a lot of new perspective on things and he just, you know, very seriously said, this is a defining moment, for 680 and for society. And you know, he said, I want to send a message to the listeners. And so he, he wrote this message, it was just, essentially, and we delivered it on the air at four o’clock, and just saying that we know that this is overwhelming and we feel it too. And we’re with you until it resolves and it will, and we have to stay calm and we will give you the facts, you know? And just that, this is the moment in time that we’re all together, we’re all in it together, and that you can count on us. And it was from his heart. And honestly, it just resonated. We put it on social and it just really resonated with people because it was so authentic. And just a message like, this sucks. We’re dealing with it too, and, and just that we’re all in it together. I just felt like really resonated with people and I was just, I was blown away by the response.
Jordan: Tell me a little bit about the logistics of trying to stay on top of every aspect of this story and how you divide up your team or, uh, make your workflow adapt to an evolving situation, I guess.
Amber: Luckily we’re used to breaking news, so that’s fine. We can handle that. Um, this, the thing that’s scary though is, um, how the team will potentially be impacted by, uh, travel. Will people have to be self isolated? Will somebody in the newsroom contract this, will an entire shift of people go down if they have to go into self isolation? So, you know, what are the variables of how people get to work? Is that on the TTC? Um, you know, they wash their hands before they’ve come in? And all these kinds of things. So it’s just those kinds of things that we just have to believe that, okay. Like, we’re taking the proper steps to keep everyone in the newsroom safe. Um, you know, there’s no one allowed in the newsroom right now that does not need to, does not work in the newsroom. And we’re just, we’re just trying to, you know, prevent somebody from getting sick on the team, you know, because we do believe that, like, you know, we’re the only 24-7 news source in Toronto. And so that’s so important to us too, to maintain that. And we will. But there’s a little bit of anxiety just, you know, keeping people safe when you can’t control the situation.
Jordan: For the record. That’s part of why me and you are talking remotely right now, cause we’re usually working right next door to you. And your guys’ safety is paramount. And we’re podcasters. So we want to do the DIY thing and be with people in their basements and home offices where they are. But part of that was also like, you’re essential services right now. And we need to make sure that, that nobody’s in the way of what you guys are doing.
Amber: Yeah. Well, thank you. And, um, you know, that’s kind of the way we’re looking at it too, is, um, you know, just that facts matter at this point. Um, they always do, but especially now, uh, everything’s amplified by social media, everything’s blowing up, everything seems overwhelming and we just have to be there with the team in place and give you the facts, give you the information as it’s coming in, um, in a non, you know, hyperbole way. And just to make sure that you have all the information you need to make the best decisions for your family and for yourself.
Jordan: I know you guys get a ton of calls from the public on a normal day. Tell me about some of the calls you’re getting from listeners now and what they’re asking, I guess, and what they want to know.
Amber: Well, a big one is, um, which is great, on a normal day, people sometimes call in after they hear the gas price, and they say, Hey, I’ve got, I’ve got a cheaper price in Whitby, I’ve got a cheaper price in Mississauga, this intersection. But now people are calling in saying like, there’s toilet paper at the Sobey’s on dah, dah, dah. So it’s, it’s, it’s really cool that people are, you know, using us as a conduit to try to help people. Unfortunately, at this point, it’s not something that we can report on because it would change so fast, but those kinds of things, it’s nice that people are actively trying to help people. Um, and maybe it’s something we’ll do on social where people can, you know, put in their pro tips about where, who’s got groceries, who’s got, you know, toilet paper and all that kind of stuff. Because that is really what people really need to know right now.
Jordan: You guys also get news tips, um, from people who don’t know where else to go with them. I’m assuming you’re getting some of those right now?
Amber: Yeah. There are a lot of questions about certain things that aren’t closed yet. You know, people that maybe are not going to be paid over the time that they have to potentially be in self isolation. A lot of things about the airport. Uh, even today, um, my niece is actually coming home from a trip today, and so I was looking about how she would be screened at the airport and found a bunch of people on Twitter saying that those actual things that Canada Board Services says are actually happening in the airport are actually not happening at the airport. So we’re covering that angle as well. So, just trying to make sure that what the authorities are saying is actually happening, because, you know, in a perfect world, every government agency would be on the same page, but we’re seeing that they’re not right. Toronto, Ontario, Canada, all have slightly different recommendations at this point in terms of self-isolation and travel and things like that. So, um, it’s just our job to make sure that, you know, call people out, make sure people are giving the right information, um, and that people have the latest information.
Jordan: What about the scenes on the ground? You know, you mentioned that we hear about no toilet paper at this place, and I mean, social media is now filled with pictures of people lined up out the door at various stores. How do you guys go about reporting on the ground and kind of presenting the bigger picture of, is this actually happening across the city or are these just isolated incidents? And how do you get your team to change the way they report, I guess, to stay safe in the middle of it?
Amber: I think we just show what we see. So there have been a few incidents of people, um, who on Thursday, the day that the world exploded, you know, um, going to grocery stores, and it was very, very busy. Um, I just actually tweeted that I went to the grocery store this morning and it was completely fine. There was a ton of food. There was toilet paper. People were buying slightly more than they would normally get, but it was a very calm situation. That personally eased my anxiety a lot, so, you know, whatever we’re seeing, um, we’re reporting on. So we’re reporting on good situations to where there are, um, people are being calm, people are being good. It’s also important for us to showcase Toronto, the good. Um, so, but, you know, on that Thursday, on that day, we were reporting on what was happening, and what was happening was a gong show at grocery stores. Um, but you know, we’re also, you know, obviously encouraged to present a balanced portrait, if that’s possible. And I think the situation has stabilized a little bit and we are showcasing that as well.
Jordan: What about reporters staying safe while they’re out reporting in the middle of crowds like that? Are they doing anything differently? Are you telling them to do things differently? What’s going on with them?
Amber: To me, it’s the reporter’s comfort and safety is the only thing that I care about. So, um, we decided, you know, if we don’t have to go into a terminal at the airport, we won’t, uh, we’ll talk to people at the Park ‘n’ Fly. Uh, we’ll stay outside. Um, and every reporter, every reporter assignment, um, if they’re comfortable doing it, that’s fine. But if they’re not, will you report on it from the newsroom, thank God for technology. We can link up, grab the audio, and get the story without being in certain places. So, to me, it’s just about, um, how do you keep the, how do you keep our people safe and, um, their comfort level. So we’ve made a few tweaks, but so far, nothing, nothing major.
Jordan: You kind of touched on this off the top, but I want to ask you about it in a little bit more depth. There’s been a ton of accusations, I guess, about the media overhyping this and sparking panic. How do you guys deal with the desire to present accurate reporting, which is not painting a pretty picture right now, but also not wanting to spark panic.
Amber: You know, I would say it’s basically impossible because, I think what’s different, and I’ve talked to a lot of people about this, you know, even the difference between covering SARS and covering COVID-19, is just the amplification of social media makes everything so visceral and scary and the messages from so many different sources, it is overwhelming. Um, it’s just this balance of presenting the information, but then putting it on so many different platforms, that you know, as opposed to, you hear something on the radio and then you get, you absorb that message as a listener, but now you’re hearing it on the radio, you’re getting it on a web alert, an app alert, Twitter, Facebook. It’s just so much, um, that like I feel, I feel bad, but then at the same time, it’s like, okay, but people consume all their news on different platforms. So you have to feed the platforms because other people are on those platforms. But at the same time, being beaten with a baseball bat with the messages is something that I don’t think we can change at this point, just to make sure that the messenger is responsible. But that social media aspect, that amplification, I think is just, um, it’s, it, this is just unchartered territory right now for the media and for the world. I mean, this is just, um, it’s really the first major pandemic in a social media world, and we’re kind of seeing that it’s like, it’s, uh, it’s just causing people a lot of anxiety and it’s really, it’s sad.
Jordan: Well, how the hell do you guys stay so calm and professional on the air and you’re, you’re calm and professional while we talk to you. I mean, there’s a lot of people like us, working from home or not going back to work today and wondering what they’re going to do. Can you, do you have any tips, I guess? Help us out, Amber.
Amber: You repeat after me. You say everything’s going to be okay. We will get through this. That’s, I mean, it’s just, it’s our job. It’s like, I would never even dare compare us to a first responder or anyone that’s working in healthcare, but you go in and you, you just do your job. And the job is telling the news. Like I said, when you’re at work, it actually doesn’t seem real. It seems like you’re just reading this information and you’re a bit detached from it. So at work it’s easy, you know, we can keep it light at work. Um, it’s just when you come home where you’re like, Oh my God. But at work, it just, it’s like you just, it doesn’t seem real. So it makes it as though like, you can dissociate yourself a little bit from it, which might make us all psychopaths, but that’s just kind of what we have to do.
Jordan: Finally, if people want to tune into 680 news, uh, as this goes on, what can they expect from you guys? Like what’s your cycle like? What are your updates like, um, give people a sense of what you’re providing?
Amber: Well, we are live 24-7. Constantly updating anytime, anytime at all. When there’s an update from, locally or internationally. Um, you know, the latest numbers, just the latest warnings from the government, the latest travel advisories, any update, you will get it on 680 News. We’re just so committed to getting Toronto and the GTA through this. Keeping us all safe, because we are you, right? And we’re just working to get everyone through this and you know, thank you for listening and thank you for, um, you know, listening to the government and we will get through this.
Jordan: Thanks Amber. And you should know I bought a vintage battery powered radio just for this crisis. I’m a digital guy, obviously, but, uh, when you think about things going really bad, I mean, you picture someone tuning into the radio.
Amber: Well, there was that tweet that we all kind of had a bit of a chuckle about a couple of weeks ago where someone had tweeted, gosh, I wish there was a podcast to tell me more about COVID-19 and then a bunch of 680 people retweeted it and said, well, there’s also the radio.
Jordan: That’s the podcast that never ends.
Amber: Right? The live podcast, radio. So I mean, I would strongly recommend people get the deeper story on The Big Story podcast, but constant updates anytime on 680 news on it or on any radio station. So.
Jordan: Well, thanks Amber. And stay safe and keep your team safe. And we’ll be listening.
Amber: Ditto. Thank you, Jordan.
Jordan: Amber LeBlanc, the news director at 680 News. You can find 680 news at 680 on your AM dial if you’re in Toronto, but also at 680news.com anywhere in the world. Wherever you are, you should look into which local radio station is broadcasting news and have it tuned in for the days to come. And that was The Big Story, the first day of our new world. And we want to hear about what your new world looks like. If you’d like to reach out to us, you can email us either through the contact form on our website, thebigstorypodcast.ca. Or if you’d like, send us an audio clip telling us where you are, how you’re doing, and what you’d like to know. You can send that to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be checking it daily. You can, of course, always find us on Twitter at @thebigstoryFPN. We read our replies, our DMS are open, and feel free to reach out about anything. Thanks for listening. I hope you’re well. Stay safe. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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