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Behind The Scenes Of A Coronavirus Press Conference

Governor Tom Wolf speaks by video feed while Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine stands at the podium during a virtual press conference.


On today's program: Journalists share the pros and cons of press conferences in the time of coronavirus; PA teachers are relearning how to do their jobs; and local arts groups explore new ways to work during the pandemic.

Virtual press briefings leave a lot to be desired
(00:00 — 8:36) 

When state and local officials want to get out a message, they often call a press conference. Reporters fill the room, listen to any prepared remarks, ask questions and can snag speakers afterward to clarify anything left unsaid or get additional information they’d rather receive privately, rather than en masse.

That was before the pandemic.

Now seven weeks into almost daily press briefings with Gov. Tom Wolf, state health secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, Allegheny County officials and others, reporters share what it’s like to not be in the room anymore and how that hampers their ability to get clear and concise information to the public.

“There’s almost no chance for follow-up,” says Brad Bumsted, Capitol bureau chief for The Caucus newspaper in Harrisburg. And since briefings went virtual, he writes, "the Wolf administration has the opportunity, if it chooses, to dodge the toughest questions for their boss."

90.5 WESA health reporter Sarah Boden says, on the flip side, some things work well. “In some ways I feel like I have more access because, you know, these press briefings are more frequent than usual.”

But both agree remote press conferences probably aren’t an ideal way to gather information.

“There’s nothing to substitute being in the same room with the person that you’re interviewing and pushing them for a little more information, reading their body language, reading their face,” says Boden. “So I hope that eventually I can go back to schlepping downtown and doing all of this in person.”

The trials and triumphs inside one Philly teacher’s virtual classroom
(8:38 — 13:41) 

With Pennsylvania schools closed through June, every classroom has become a laboratory for virtual learning.

Keystone Crossroads reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent introduces sixth-grade teacher Lauren Ballester, who kept an audio diary during her first week teaching online in Philadelphia. Initially, she felt a lot of conflicting emotions, she says: frustration, triumph, loneliness, hope. And still, there’s a lot to figure out.

“If they all come and don’t get anything out of it, then who is that really for?” 

Arts groups ponder reopening, and a more virtual future
(13:44 — 18:03) 

Nearly two months into the coronavirus shutdown, arts groups in Pittsburgh are exploring new ways to work, both now and in an uncertain future. 

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll reports on the organizations trying their hand at online arts programming, and the complications they might face when public gatherings are permitted again. 

90.5 WESA’s Julia Zenkevich contributed to this report. 

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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