(CBSMiami) — Covering news stories all around Miami-Dade and Broward amid troubling concerns about the coronavirus is unlike anything I have ever seen in my lifetime and unlike any other story I have covered in my 43 years as a television news reporter.
I was shot at by a sniper while covering the McDuffie riots in May of 1980 in Miami. As Hurricane Andrew was bearing down on South Florida early in the morning of August 24 1992, a TV tower crashed down into the parking lot right next to me while I was doing a LIVE shot for another station. An angry demonstrator pulled a gun on me in Port-au-Prince Haiti while covering a demonstration in September of 1995.
But those were threats I could see. In many ways, it was easier to deal with all of them.
This new threat is troubling in a very different way: you can’t see it coming. You can only see the victims.
So covering the concerns about the coronavirus in the field involves day-to-day decisions. The approach is obviously very different. Interviews with people are done at a distance with extender poles on our microphones. They are done quickly and there are fewer of those interviews to minimize contact.
I have been noticing that nearly everyone I see is being extraordinarily careful and keeping that social distance. Ironically, because we have been stressing the need for that distance, very few people are willing to stop and do interviews. They tell me they “need to keep going.” In a way that is impressive.
A case in point. While doing a story recently on the first death from the coronavirus in Miami-Dade, we interviewed the Miami-Dade mayor in person at a distance and Miami Mayor Frances Suarez by FaceTime. Then we moved on to downtown Miami to get reaction from the public.
It was not easy. Everyone was trying to avoid us. I asked the first 20 people for an interview. They all scooted away from us, most saying they had to “keep their distance.” The 21st person was a CBS4 viewer who recognized me and said, “Peter, how are you doing?” He gave us a great interview as did the 22nd person who we interviewed from a distance while he was walking his dog.
How life has changed. Photographer Joaquin Garcia and I roam the outdoors, but we are extremely careful about clustering inside offices or buildings for interviews. My oldest daughter Jennifer, who’s a nurse, says that’s important. Everything we do and every move we make involves a conscious decision.
My late father Russell G. D’Oench, a longtime Editor-in-Chief of The Middletown Press in Connecticut, always told me, “Son, it’s important you love your job.” I always have. It’s what keeps me going.
So each day is a challenge. And as a father of three wonderful daughters and two great granddaughters, I am constantly aware that we have to do our best to inform and educate while being sensitive to the growing anxiety out there.
You want to tell people about what you are seeing while remembering to put it all in perspective. Miami-Dade may have so many cases of COVID-19 but as Mayor Carlos Gimenez reminds us, the population is 2.8 million. It doesn’t lessen the story or the impact but there has to be perspective. Covering this story constantly reminds me how important perspective is in terms of alerting and informing. In the end there is hope. There is that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. There are good stories amid all the troubling ones.
I tell my children about an older English teacher of mine from Connecticut who I would see from time to time near the end of his life. He was always upbeat with a smile on his face. I asked him why he was always smiling, why he always seemed happy.
“The secret,” he told me, “is simple. You always have to have something to look forward to. I focus on that: seeing my former students, theater, symphony orchestra, taking a road trip around New England.”
“Always have something to look forward to,” he said. For me, it’s Cuban coffee and trying to find exclusive stories for CBS4. For good reasons, those exclusives are on hold these days. But the Cuban coffee is still there, along with my family, friends at work, my dogs and hobbies. It may be difficult but cling on to what you have to look forward to.
I’m also seeing that “We are in this together” is becoming more than just a phrase. I saw it in the dark days after Hurricane Andrew. More and more people are being kind to each other. A stranger came up to my wife at Publix in the dark the other morning and offered her a spare mask. Farm Share and the Rotary Club of Homestead just teamed up to hand out more than 1200 bag of groceries and canned goods to those in need: primarily restaurant workers who had lost their jobs or seen hours drastically reduced.
And on Saturday, they’ll be doing it again: passing out 1,000 bags of food and canned goods starting at 9 a.m. at the Homestead Sports Complex to the general public.
“We are giving out the food to everyone,” said Phil Marraccini, the President of the Rotary Club of Homestead. “That means even if you are from, say, North Miami, you can get the help.”
It is kindness and concern that goes a long way. And that is just one instance of how we are “in this together.” As I have seen in the past few weeks, there are more people out there than we may realize who care about you and are willing to show it. So each day is an adventure and you have to believe that we are all taking the appropriate steps and after some difficult weeks ahead, it will get better. There is no doubt.