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Resources for Freelancers Navigating COVID-19

This guide is periodically updated with current information that reflects the needs of AIR’s community. It was last updated on Monday August 10, 2020.

Let us know (by emailing [email protected]) if we missed something valuable or if you’re struggling to find information that we can help you identify. 

Your primary source of information and guidance about the spread of COVID-19 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. 

Recording Safely

As communities begin to lift travel restrictions and businesses reopen, we’re seeing calls for tape syncs begin to trickle in, both on AIR’s tape sync forum and on other radio lists. While it may be possible to maintain an appropriate distance and gather high quality recordings safely, a conventional tape sync arrangement may put the recordist and the subject in very close contact.

AIR has compiled an extensive round up of remote recording tips and tricks that many producers have used to avoid tape syncs altogether. 

AudioUK maintains up to date COVID-19 production guidelines that cover risk assessment guidance for professional audio production, including tape syncs and studio hire.

If you are going to record in the field, we strongly recommend that you refer to the CDC’s workplace recommendations as well as OSHA’s guidance on workplace safety.  Their recommendations include:

  • Hand sanitizer is great for times when you can’t wash your hands but it is not as effective as proper hand washing. 
  • Do not shake hands. 
  • Avoid close contact with anyone outside your own household. "Close contact" means coming within six feet of another person for a prolonged period. 
  • Cloth face coverings do help slow the spread of the virus.
  • Masks with one-way valves can spread the virus farther than no mask at all. 
  • These guidelines are meant to reduce asymptomatic spread of the disease. Anyone who is sick or recovering from COVID-19 should follow CDC guidance on how long to stay in isolation. 

In many areas of the country, local guidelines are much more permissive than CDC recommendations, even as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. We strongly recommend that anyone recording in the field use the guidelines established by OSHA and the CDC as a minimum safety precaution. 

For in person interviews you may be able to use a fish pole/boom mic to achieve the social distance suggested by CDC. 

What about your kit? 

Preliminary research suggests that the virus can linger for up to 72 hours on some metals and plastics. That means it is important to avoid sharing equipment and to clean any shared recording equipment.  Don’t share equipment that cannot be sanitized.

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. 

Guitar Center carries a sanitizing foam explicitly designed for microphones.

Inside Radio’s round up of tips for keeping your studio safe recommends using individual mic muffs and not sharing headphones. They noted that $10-15 generic muffs work fine -- you don’t need one designed for your particular mic. 

KNKX’s station engineer advises that mics and metal wind screens can safely be wiped with a cotton cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol. They also told us that disinfecting wipes are fine for the outer plastic parts of headphones, but ear cushions are likely to be damaged by cleaning products. Cushions can be wiped off with a damp cotton cloth, but a damp cloth will not sanitize anything: Don’t share equipment that cannot be sanitized. 

Apple and Samsung have both said (at least, per the WSJ) that it is fine to clean your phone screen with isopropyl alcohol wipes. It’s also fine to decline to share your cell phone. 

As reporters, hosts and producers 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 there, from independent producers as well as Marketplace, Transom and NPR. 

Reporting Guides

Lenfest Institute’s comprehensive round up of resources includes a thorough and growing list of information sources and reporting guides that will be useful for reporters covering COVID-19. 

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 anyone with a staff email at an NPR affiliate) 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 our Community Forums. 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

Sources of Financial Support

AIR’s Freelance Audio Fund is no longer accepting applications. We have received more applications than we are able to fund and will continue to respond to the requests we have already received. 

The federal CARES Act, passed in March 2020, included $600/week pandemic pay and a 13-week extension of unemployment compensation, and provides for extending unemployment benefits to freelancers and independent contractors who are ineligible for regular unemployment insurance. The best guides to applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance are maintained by  the Freelancers Union and the International Documentary Association:

Both the IDA and Freelancers Union recommend reaching out to state and federal legislators if you are falling through the cracks. We know that for many indies, the system is not working as it was intended to -- the legislators who wrote the law need to know who still needs help. 

In addition to access to unemployment assistance, a number of well curated guides are tracking funding sources:

Additional Guides to the Federal Stimulus 

The IDA guide to Navigating US Unemployment Compensation as a Filmmaker is the best guide we’ve found to the Federal Stimulus, but you may also find these resources helpful: 

In addition to the unemployment provisions in the Federal stimulus package, the  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?

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

We’re adding and updating resources as we have them. Please reach out to [email protected] with any questions or suggestions.