#CoveringCOVID is a virtual series of one-on-one interviews with our reporters, where we pull back the curtain to better understand how they do their jobs and how the pandemic has changed it all.
This week WBUR CitySpace events and programming manager Alex Schneps interviews WBUR Morning Edition senior news writer Sara-Rose Brenner.
Sara-Rose Brenner: So my name is Sara Rose Brenner. First name Sara-Rose, never Sara, and I am the senior news writer for Morning Edition.
Alex Schneps: You're a news writer. Is there a difference between what you do and what other reporters do and what does "news writer" actually mean?
Sara-Rose: So a news writer is different from a reporter in that I work on a specific show focused on what we do in the top and the bottom of our newscast. So in a similar way to a reporter, but I'm never really trying to put together like a four minute feature or a debrief; I'm working with a maximum of 45 seconds at all times.
Alex: Can you explain what newscast is?
Sara-Rose: They are the local news stories that you hear. So if you hear Jack Lepiarz start talking, that is your WBUR newscast. It's an extension of the national newscast.
Alex: You are building the scripts that Bob Oakes will read and Jack Lepiarz will read.
Sara-Rose: Yes. So if you are hearing like short news, that is something that newscast produced. So anything that you hear Bob Oakes say in a newscast about the coronavirus numbers, sports when we used to have those, those are things that usually come from the newscast people.
Alex: So how does it feel to be the voice behind the voice?
Sara-Rose: It's a little weird. It's like a high pressure thing because you definitely don't want to make a mistake that makes someone else look bad. So it's very high pressure, very high turnaround. But you develop a good relationship with your host. So eventually you get a little less stressed out about it.
Alex: So for people who may not totally understand, there's Morning Edition and Morning Edition is a part of NPR. But it's also WBUR. Can you just explain what the whole system is?
Sara-Rose: We work in conjunction with NPR. So NPR produces Morning Edition from D.C. with obviously contributions from throughout the country. So we see their rundown and we see their stories and we know when they're going to do newscasts also at the top and the bottom of the hour. So we look at what they're doing and then we see how our work will fit in with their work. So the producer will decide what pieces and features from the NPR national rundown we're covering with our local reporter features. And then in newscasts, it's usually pretty standard. We always take the first half, the newscast that NPR produces, and then we cover the second half with our own local news.
Alex: What does a typical day look like for you?
Sara-Rose: So before I would wake up around 2:30 in the morning and I would get ready and get my car and drive to Boston. We report to newscast by 4:00 and then we have a quick pre-show powwow with our producer, Dan Guzman. That's when we go over the story list and we talk about what we're going to write. And then also when we have interviews called two ways, like Bob is interviewing someone else, sometimes those aren't live, they're actually taped. So one of us actually stands in the studio and has to mix it in a few minutes to turn it around for air. So we talk about all that in the 4:00 a.m. meeting. Dan will leave and go into the studio. And Bob [Shaffer] and I sit in our little dark room by ourselves and we write all the news. And then I put together the assignment list, which is a roster of everything that's happening everywhere in Massachusetts that maybe we want to cover. We start looking for things that we can get sound on, do interviews on for the next day's newscasts or the afternoon people. From like 9:30 to 12:30, we are writing newscasts, getting sound and talking to other human beings, something I sorely miss.
Alex: That is a crazy amount to do, especially starting at 2:30 in the morning.
Sara-Rose: It's, yes, it's... These hours are not for everyone. You get a lot of energy, though, from your coworkers. Like we have a great relationship on the Morning Edition team. So that's obviously a huge change now that we're all isolated. Writing the news is kind of a collaborative thing, like you bounce ideas off each other. You're constantly like, "What is another word for this?" or "Am I saying this right?" or like, oh, "Can you listen to this sound that I like? Does it sound weird?"
Alex: Now what does your day look like?
Sara-Rose: I'm doing most of the same things just on the Internet, like seemingly everyone else. And I have a setup to record interviews. It's a little different, though. It's...this phone. It's... it's very old. Yeah, I feel like I'm on "Mad Men," when I do interviews on this, I'm like, "Hello?"
Alex: Why is that phone over another phone necessary?
Sara-Rose: You know, that is a really good question. You know, we didn't have a lot of time to plan our escape from the building. And I think this is what they had.
Alex: As somebody who is in the news, writes the news, eats, breathes, sleeps the news, what advice would you give to people who are freaking out right now?
Sara-Rose: You know, just find joy in what you can and don't stress about the other things. And always remember that it's OK to feel whatever feelings you have. You know, like you shouldn't feel bad about it. Like I said, keep perspective. Like, I love seeing stories about kids sewing masks. And I'm always every day impressed with the things that we are able to do as a station given all the technical challenges and being so far away from each other. All of that is so inspiring to me. And as far as hope, like, you know, it's nice to hear the birds chirping and watch the sunrise every morning. You know, it's just like a nice reminder that life continues, even if it's a little weird right now.
Alex: Well, Sara-Rose and not Sara.
Alex: Never. Thank you very much. I very much appreciate you giving me your time.
Sara-Rose: Thank you, Alex. This was fun.
Alex: If you would like to find more on WBUR's coronavirus coverage, always tune in to 90.9 FM, go to wbur.org/coronavirus and hopefully we'll be doing a few more of these. So Sara Rose, thanks again.
Sara-Rose: Thank you, Alex.
Producer - Alex Schneps
Assistant Producer - Candice Springer
Technical Advisor - Niall Foley
Music and Audio Mixing - Adam Straus
Animation - Michael Diffin