Jordan: I just went back and I looked at the past six months of episodes of this show. I went back to the very beginning of this pandemic because I wanted to see who we’ve talked to, which voices we’ve relied on, on the subject of COVID-19 and its impacts. We’ve heard from doctors, obviously, we’ve heard from epidemiologists, just from vaccine experts, we’ve heard from professors and researchers in areas from architecture, to diet, to productivity and human resources, to the economy and to climate science and a whole bunch more. And they’ve told us how COVID-19 will change almost every big thing about our lives. And of course we’ve heard from reporters and political pundits and analysts about the response to the virus from various levels of government. How big and how fast and how thorough was it? How will that response go over with voters? What will it mean for the next election? All that stuff. And through all of that, as I looked back at our episodes, I realized that we really haven’t stopped to talk to many regular Canadians who are just trying to live their lives in these quote unquote, unprecedented times. Canadians who are just trying to figure out how all of that big picture stuff that I just talked about how much of that will actually matter as they go about their days.
Clip: So I just had my doctor’s appointment and everything is great with the baby. I can’t– just so emotional because there’s lots of new rules with visitors and it’s just not what I expected for welcoming a baby.
Clip 2: I need help every day. Just, like, activities of daily living. Getting dressed, getting in– sliding in and out of bed, getting into my chair.
Clip 3: And having to close down a business but, as small business. And you still have bills to pay, rents to pay for the business and stuff like that, it’s been very challenging.
Clip 4: People are getting upset and now they’re threatening to do things to staff members.
Clip 5: My husband had to go to work because he’s an essential service worker because you need your cable. And somewhere in those two weeks, he contracted the COVID.
Jordan: We didn’t really stop to do that kind of journalism, and maybe we should have. Fortunately for us though, somebody else did it for us. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. And this is The Big Story. Pat Taney is a producer and a reporter at CityNews, one of the key people working on the documentary Going Viral, which airs Monday night, tonight, on City TV stations across the country. Hello, Pat.
Pat: Hey, how are you, Jordan? Thanks so much for having me.
Jordan: I’m doing really well, thanks. And why don’t you just start by explaining what the project is. I touched on it a little bit in my intro, but kind of outline what you’re doing here.
Pat: So Going Viral is a documentary produced by CityTV. It follows the journeys of several Canadians as they navigated through the past few months during the COVID pandemic. Really, an in depth up close and personal look at their lives, their mindsets, as they, in some cases faced huge obstacles and challenges during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown. So we follow them from the beginning of the pandemic, through several months of the first half of the lockdown and pandemic as well.
Jordan: Where did that idea come from? Why did you approach it that way?
Pat: Well, we wanted to go beyond the headlines. Initially, City had launched a documentary series and we were all set to go, this was back in January, with several different topics. And then COVID hit and the world turned upside down. COVID, obviously, the big story of 2020. And we wanted to go beyond the stories that were already being told. As you know, Jordan, hundreds of stories out there have been done on COVID and its impact. But we wanted to go deeper, not only tell these stories, but dive into the lives of those it has impacted, and what their day to day life is like, what they’re seeing through their lenses, we were able to capture their emotions and reactions in real time, as they were the ones who were actually documenting the journey for us.
Jordan: Yeah. Tell me about that. Cause my next question was going to be, how do you get intimate views of Canadians’ lives when you’re not allowed to go to anywhere near them?
Pat: That was the hardest part of this documentary. So, typically with a documentary, and how we film these, we send in a camera crew, we send an audio teams, producers. Obviously with the lockdown and social distancing rules, that was impossible. So we were unable to do that. So we had to ask these contributors, those that we sought out and found, to document their own lives. So they’re already going through tremendous struggles through all of this, because we picked very unique characters that were going through something extraordinary. So we said, you know, we found them on social media or, you know, they might have posted something that was interesting. Like hey, you’ve got a great story. Would you mind doing a little bit more and taking it a step further? When we said a step further, we meant a huge step further, because we were asking them to balance everything they were already juggling, to take a cell phone camera and document their journeys for us, do video diaries, show us what they’re seeing on a day to day life, inside their homes, inside their businesses. You know, we wanted the view you through their lens of what they were experiencing, how they were feeling, and some of the emotions they were going through during the process.
Jordan: How completely did their lives change from the time you started following them until the time you wrapped this documentary? And maybe it varied by person, but I’d love to get a sense of, you know, you mentioned at the beginning, it turned everything upside down. What, what went upside down?
Pat: For– well, it depends on which character we’re talking about, but, you know, it went upside down on many different levels for different people. So, you know, for instance, we follow a woman who was expecting her first child. And, you know, for the first part of her pregnancy, everything was normal because it was pre-COVID. And then COVID hit. She would take her mom to the doctor’s office for checkups. She would take her husband, but that all hall had to change. So she had to now go through this alone, and it was hard for her. It was very hard for her. So we saw her, and she’s very candid and raw about the emotion she was feeling having to do this alone now.
Clip: Just a little emotional because there’s lots of new rules with visitors. It’s just not what I expected for welcoming the baby.
Pat: And she felt very isolated.
Clip: I’m more so just concerned about keeping my family safe and also wanting them to see the baby. But, I just don’t know what the right thing to do is.
Pat: We follow a nurse in Calgary who’s on the front lines in an emergency department there.
Clip: Can you see my eyes? Because that’s all I can see when I have a new patient in front of me.
Pat: And things drastically changed for her, because she was so used to, as a nurse, having that one on one contact with patients, being able to comfort them, rub their backs.
Clip: It’s something I’ve never experienced in my whole career. And I’ve never had people’s eye colours and eye expressions burned into my mind so badly. We see all the emotion, all the fear, all the sadness that people’s families can’t be with them. And it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
Pat: Now she’s dealing with patients who have no access to family members, because they can’t go into the emergency department anymore. And then she is faced with all these challenges, just to see these patients. To give them a glass of water in some cases, as she puts it, took an act of God. Because they had to isolate these patients behind closed doors and they had to gear up, get in PPE before they could go in and even talk or deliver a glass of water to these patients. So there’s a variety of challenges that we’ll see in this documentary and that we saw unfold as we were following these characters.
Jordan: Were there any common themes beyond, you know, obviously having their lives up-ended by COVID. Were there any common themes that you found, no matter how varied their lives were, they all were facing those things?
Pat: Yeah. Struggle, heartbreak and resiliency. So struggle and heartbreak in the beginning. As we’ve mentioned, these people were facing real hurdles. It was fascinating to see them send their videos each week and see how they were dealing with so many different things. Each of them were able to conquer their fears. And I think in the moment, we’re all able to do that. When you look at this from the outside, you’re like, Oh, how did they go through that? But when you witness someone going through it, we as humans have that resiliency built in and we fight back. And they were able to conquer the heartbreak, they were able to try and find some kind of normalcy in a world that really is anything but normal at this point.
Jordan: How did you get them to keep going through some of that? Cause there’s some, some really emotional stuff and some really hard times for the subjects of the doc. And I know that if that was me, at some point, I would have just said, you know what? I’m not doing my video diary for CityTV this week.
Pat: For these characters, it took building relationships. So myself, co-producers Megan Robinson, Cristina Howorun, director Alex McIntosh, and our associate producer, Jenny Peng really had to coach these people through this, explaining exactly what we needed, being empathetic with them, telling them we understand this is difficult, we know you’re going through so much. But the stories you’re going to tell could help Canadians better understand what so many are going through right now. And many of them, many who will be watching, we’ll be able to relate to these stories. And that really got them to go on. The other thing, which was very interesting through all of this, is these contributors at first probably thought it was a bit troublesome, but then when they started doing it, Jordan, and they started to do these video diaries and document their lives, they said they began to treat their cell phones like a therapist. They felt like they were opening up and getting things out. And to them, it was comforting. It helped them, in a sense, through the process because they were able to talk through their emotions to try and get through this. So that was the most fascinating thing. And we’ve, you know, the team really developed with the characters we were following. We really developed incredible relationships with these people. I can say I’ve added a few more Facebook friends through all of this, because we are really talking with them through some of their toughest moments throughout this whole pandemic. And in some cases we were the only ones that they were able to talk to you through all of this and really get out that emotion.
Jordan: Can you give me some examples of some of those sessions that you might’ve had, that that really moved you?
Pat: I followed a couple whose loved one was in a longterm care home rocked by COVID.
Clip: So my mother’s in Ultima nursing care. She’s been there since November.
Pat: And they were desperate for answers in the beginning, as many people were. The longterm care homes, as you know, were greatly affected. Some of them, in the Toronto area, Montreal area were really hit hard by the virus. So these people were locked out. They could not go in and see their loved ones. And they were struggling to find answers and they were frustrated and they were angry. And this couple in particular, their mom had been in a room with someone who had tested positive. And I was on the phone with them minutes after they got the call telling them that their mom’s roommate tested positive. Their mom is 94 years old, already has a variety of issues. And it was so emotional to talk to them at that point, when they were feeling so raw and so open and so angry about not being able to get answers as to why their mom was not being moved out of that room, and what was being done to ensure that she wouldn’t be the next to become infected.
Clip: The care is just not there in these homes. I know the nurses. I know the PSW’s are doing everything they can, and they’re doing an amazing job. And I get that. I believe it’s upper management that is telling them what they can and cannot do. And it’s not enough, even though–
Pat: Well, she did get infected. And we followed them through that process as well. And to see what they were going through, to try to understand what they were feeling was challenging, but at the same time, very eye opening. And you couldn’t not feel absolutely horrible for these people and try and be a voice of comfort and try and tell them, and, you know, pitch stories to the newsroom to try and get these answers for them so they could find some kind– or get some kind of sleep that night. But it was really, really– just their story alone for me really hit home. I have an elderly mom, not in a longterm care home, thank goodness. But I just felt for them and I was glad that, again, we were able to provide some sense of comfort to them through all of this.
Jordan: I’m going to ask, because everybody listening to this will want me to, did shemake it?
Pat: You know, I hate to do this, but you’ll have to watch the documentary. Cause that’s one of the journeys that we’re following and–
Jordan: Tell me about how, cause you just touched on it, you walk the line between being somebody’s helper, somebody’s coach, somebody’s therapist and a journalist who’s trying to document this at arms reach. Because I know, especially when you’re dealing with, you know, ordinary people, who are having, you know, the same regular struggles that thousands of Canadians are having, there’s gotta be a real drive to just do something for them, as opposed to just taking their videos.
Pat: Yes. And there was. So I think what, you know, the idea behind this documentary project was not only to do the documentary, but also feed CityTV newsroom with stories. So throughout that, when we would be told about something that was happening, let’s say in longterm care homes, we would pitch those stories to the newsroom and say, Hey, you got to look out for this, you’ve got to try and find answers. These are the questions people who are going through this have right now and want answered. So we were able to kind of help drive news coverage to be able to cover these stories. You know, we were one of the first to find out that the military was being deployed to these longterm care homes. And, we sent a crew right away to try and document that and figure out what they exactly were going to be doing. So that’s how we were able to help these people out. Because as you know, this documentary we were falling over several months, we couldn’t just, you know, get this out right away and get those answers for these people. So we had to use the newsroom kind of as our vehicle to do that part of it for us.
Jordan: And there are a lot of big picture angles to COVID-19 in Canada and we’ve covered a ton of them on this podcast. And especially when it comes to the government response, you know, we often end up talking to reporters, or columnists, or pundits about, you know, how this is going and how that’s going. And I wonder what you saw from the average folks on the ground about what they thought about how the government was handling all of this. I wonder if it’s any different from the columns you read and the hot takes, et cetera.
Pat: Yeah. So, extreme level of frustration, because no one has gone through this before, to this level. And we are all– government officials included– navigating this new strange normal. And answers changed, policies changed, and these people were going through all of that. So, you know, another person we’re following is a small business owner who’s, you know, desperate to keep his doors open. He owns a marketing firm. And even more desperate to not lay off staff or even cut their pay. So he had a lot of questions initially about the loans that were being provided for businesses. And he said at first, you know, the loan programs I was applying for, I didn’t hear anything back. I didn’t know how to navigate this new system. There wasn’t a lot of help out there. Everyone was kind of left to their own devices, trying to figure out what was happening, how they were going to be helped, what was being done to keep them safe, keep their employees safe, keep their families safe. We followed parents who were homeschooling their kids, trying to figure that whole thing out with online learning. So there were a variety of things that people were struggling to find out on their own. And they really felt that there could have been more answers provided to them and more help provided to them, whether it be from health officials or government officials throughout this whole thing.
Jordan: You touched on it a tiny bit when you mentioned the small business owner, but I wanted to ask you about how they felt specifically about the aid programs that the government got running really fast, but may or may not have been enough, the CERB in particular. Did these folks use them? Did they find them adequate? And if not, where did they fall short?
Pat: So I will tell you, they did find them adequate. Again, in the beginning, there was some frustration over how to get through it. But once they were able to get through it, they did find that it was quite helpful and was able to keep them running, and able to keep this man’s employees paid, because a little bit of a spoiler alert, although I’m not telling too much, he did have to cut their pay. And what you’ll see in this documentary is that incredible and emotional conversation he had to have with those employees on a Zoom call that day when he had to cut their pay.
Clip: You know, looking at what revenue we’re going to be, having an April and May, we’re not going to be able to sustain the full payroll. I need your help.
Pat: And he breaks down, and is incredibly upset that he has to have this tough conversation with them. But he kept them on board, and he was able to keep them on board because of the loan programs and the wage subsidies that were provided by the government. So he in the end was incredibly thankful for that and they found it very helpful.
Jordan: Before I let you go, I also wanted to ask you, you know, how has this entire process informed your reporting on COVID? Because as I mentioned, you know, we talked to pundits and analysts, we’ve talked to doctors and epidemiologists, and we constantly talk about the big picture of COVID in Canada. And I wonder how that changes when you have constant access to people who are just trying to live their lives and get through this?
Pat: Yeah. Well, you see the other side. Again, it’s going beyond the headlines and going beyond a few sound bites. You’re seeing their day to day life and you’re seeing that real raw emotion of what they’re going through in real time, which was incredibly eyeopening. I’ve been a journalist for several years. I’ve not had that is access to people before. So it really opened my eyes to see, okay, this is what happens right after I get done interviewing them. Or this is what happened right before I interviewed them. Often times, as journalists, we go after the fact and then we ask them to rehash what happened. In this case, we were able to see it in real time as it happened. And to have that access was incredibly eye opening. At times, I’ll be honest was a bit hard in some cases to watch. But it just gave us a whole deeper look at how this pandemic, how this subsequent lockdown really impacted not only their mental health, but their financial stability, their home lives, and how they were able to as human beings, navigate this new normal and come out on top and get through this. Whether the outcome was great or whether the outcome was bad, they got through it in the end.
Jordan: Well, I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds tonight. Thanks so much for doing this, Pat.
Pat: Thank you so much, Jordan. I appreciate it.
Jordan: From CityNews, you can watch Going Viral tonight in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton at 9:00 PM local time. You can watch it at 8:00 PM local time in Winnipeg and Saskatoon. That was The Big Story, for more from us, head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. Find us on Twitter at @thebigstoryFPN. Email us at at firstname.lastname@example.org. And of course, subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts. I don’t care which app you use as long as you use it to listen to our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
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