Indie Toolbox

Resources for Freelancers Navigating COVID-19

This article was last updated on  Tuesday March 31 at 2:30 PM Pacific.

Your primary source of information and guidance about the spread of the virus and best practices for prevention should always be the CDC, state and local health departments, and your own local news outlets who are best positioned to provide fact-based assessments of local conditions. Local health department should also have up-to-date guidance about risks and best practices in your area.

News and recommendations about how best to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 are changing fast. AIR has compiled some resources we believe will be helpful for independent producers who are trying to get work done while observing social distancing.

Many newsroom staff are being instructed to work from home and conduct remote interviews when possible, and a growing list of US counties have issued shelter-in-place orders.

AIR does not recommend that anyone accept tape syncs or assignments that put you in contact with people outside of your household. Research suggests that people who are otherwise apparently healthy may be unwittingly spreading COVID-19. Moreover, AIR encourages producers to speak up when you do not feel comfortable with an assignment. You know more about your health and the health of your immediate family than anyone else. Use your best judgement and don’t take unnecessary risks.

We’ve compiled some resources that we’ve found useful. Let us know (by emailing amanda@airmedia.org) if we missed something valuable.

Sources of Financial Support

A number of funds have emerged to help freelancers  cover living costs as gigs are delayed or cancelled, including:

  • AIR has announced a Freelance Audio fund, which is taking both applications and donations now.
  • Freelancers Union’s Freelance Relief Fund is taking donations now and will begin accepting applications on April 2, 2020.
  • International Women’s Media Foundation announced a Journalism Relief Fund for women-identified journalists in urgent need.

A few general guides have been compiled online, as well:

Federal Stimulus

New York Times maintains an information hub that is a solid starting point if your income has ground to a halt and you need help figuring out how to take advantage of the COVID-19 stimulus package.

A number of states have already issued emergency rules that expand eligibility for unemployment benefits, and Federal legislation passed last week extends eligibility for unemployment benefits to self-employed workers nationwide. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted March 27, says that independent contractors may be eligible for unemployment insurance and an additional $600/week from the federal relief plan. The federal government has not yet released guidance to states on exactly how they should be implementing the freelance eligibility portion of that law, and it may be weeks before we see nationwide guidelines.

National Employment Law Project has a number of clear and direct fact sheets available, including a review of unemployment provisions in the CARES act.

If you believe that you were improperly classified as an independent contractor, you can always apply for unemployment benefits and let the state agency make a determination on your behalf.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which became law on March 18, 2020, provides for 10 paid sick days and up to 12 weeks of extended leave when a parent cannot work because of the closure of a child’s school or child care because of COVID-19. What does that mean for you?

One of the questions we’ve seen more than any other is: How do you document lost income when the calls just stop coming?  We don’t have good answers to this question yet but we’re definitely looking for more resources on this question specifically.

AIR will be hosting a webinar with a Certified Financial Planner on April 6, and we’re working to schedule a session with a CPA as well, to help get your questions answered. We’ll update this post and AIRdaily with details and instructions for RSVPs when we have them. As we plan, it helps a lot to know what questions you’re struggling to answer. So if  there are more questions you need answered, feel free to reach out directly: I’m amanda@airmedia.org

Recording from Home

If you’re recording live, DPA Microphones has some good advice about proper microphone hygiene. We haven’t compared their suggestions to the CDC’s recommendations on sterilization, but that’s the most comprehensive guide to cleaning delicate equipment that we’ve found.

As reporters, hosts and producers scramble to adapt to recording and collaborating remotely and without tape syncs, we’re seeing a lot of great resources surface to help with remote recording. We’ve started gathering those guides and tools in a separate, collaboratively edited guide to recording remotely. We’ve gathered a few great tip sheets from independent producers as well as Marketplace, Transom and NPR.

As we find more tip sheets, we’ll add them to the Remote Recording guide.

If you need a hand troubleshooting recording options, AIR’s Talent Curator Jeanette Woods has been using her office hours to help members troubleshoot remote recording puzzles. AIR members can schedule time with Jeanette via Google Calendar.

Reporting Guides

Whether you’re in a newsroom or supporting a podcast audience community, Hearken’s guide to Handling Audience Questions in a Crisis is an excellent resource. In addition, the  NPR+Friends Slack (open to staff at NPR affiliates or anyone with a staff email) has a thriving #social channel where newsroom staff have been sharing strategies and successes.

Freedom of the Press Foundation published a guide to working from home securely that is worth reviewing whether you’ve been working from home for days or years.

If you manage social for a podcast or community, WGBH provides a newsletter for social  media managers, including some reminders about setting guidelines and keeping a handle on misinformation and speculation on your social channels. Consider subscribing.

If you’re covering the crisis directly, and haven’t already found a community of practice to share questions with, AIR staff are routinely posting new webinars to AIRDaily. Public Media Journalists Association, PMJA has posted a recording of their webinar on Covering COVID-19 with KUOW & KNKX.

A group of experienced data journalists is collaborating in the #covid19 channel on the News Nerdery Slack.

If you cannot avoid going out

You know your health, and the needs of the people you live with. If you do have to leave the house for any reason, your local health department or the CDC should have up-to-date information about the steps you should be taking to keep yourself and your community healthy. At a minimum, always follow CDC’s recommended best practices for workplaces. A few things worth flagging from among their recommendations:

  • Wash your hands and stop touching your face. Heard it 100 times? Now it’s 101: Wash your hands and stop touching your face. Scrub for a full 20 seconds and get between your fingers. If your hands aren’t already miserably dry and cracked, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Hand sanitizer is great for times when you can’t wash your hands but it is not as effective as proper hand washing.
  • Don’t shake hands. The CDC says “avoid,” but if someone stubbornly insists on a handshake, think about how many other hands they’ve insisted on shaking. Tap elbows or politely put your hand on your heart or your palms together and offer a bow.
  • Face masks might help you avoid spreading the virus if you are sick, but they won’t keep you from getting sick and they often lead to more face touching. The CDC doesn’t recommend face masks unless you’re a healthcare worker or actively sick.

Remote Work

If you’re on a team that isn’t used to working remotely, Wherebyus’s Rebekah Monson shared some practical tips for managing newly remote teams on Medium.

Stay Well

Above all, don’t forget to take care of yourself. If covering presidential pressers isn’t part of your beat, it’s okay to stop following the minute-by-minute coverage. And if you are responsible for breaking news, make a staffing rotation and stick to it. When you’re off duty, be off duty. Start some sourdough. Darn your socks. Call a friend. Eat meals.

If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your own immune system may be getting depleted. If you do get sick, you’re going to have a harder time recovering if you’re already worn down. Get plenty of sleep, keep your body as healthy as possible. Keep your exercise routine up, eat your vegetables. You can have a cookie or two, too, but maybe also have an orange.

We’re adding and updating resources as we have them. Please reach out to amanda@airmedia.org with any questions or suggestions.