The 24-hour news cycle never stops — and neither do these women.

By Rainesford Stauffer
Aug 18, 2020 @ 11:32 am
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Courtesy. Design by Jenna Brillhart.

The year 2020 has had enough "unprecedented events" to warrant its own history book: Over 150,000 Americans have died due to the coronavirus pandemic (some estimates put that in context as one death every 80 seconds), which has also brought on mass job losses and evictions; following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, waves of protests, calling for racial justice and dismantling of systemic racism and oppression that defines the United States, swept the world; President Donald Trump continues to attack mail-in voting, undermining the results of an election that hasn’t yet happened. All this, and there’s a presidential election in a few short months, when former Vice President Joe Biden and newly-announced vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris will run against Trump on the Democratic ticket. 

News — how it is reported, who reports it, and what citizens amplify and share — is as critical as ever. In addition to helping viewers wade through the day’s headlines, which often seem like enough to fill a week’s worth of coverage, anchors, reporters, and newscasters are breaking stories that ensure the American people are engaged and informed. While every night, viewers flip to the news while making dinner or catch a breaking story via Twitter, behind-the-scenes, reporters are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to covering the election in the midst of a 24 hour news cycle where something is always breaking: They’re reporting this chapter of American history in real-time, and they took InStyle behind-the-scenes during a day in their lives.

Rachel Scott, ABC News White House Correspondent

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Rachel Scott, White House Correspondent and D.C. Correspondent for ABC News, took us through a weekend day in New Jersey, where she was recently part of the press pool that traveled with the President to his golf club. “I really love the moments where we can show our viewers some of the chaos that happens on the campaign trail,” Scott said. 

Without traditional campaign rallies or face-to-face events with voters, Scott says that journalists are being forced to adapt to a “new reality.” Here’s what her day looks like behind the scenes.  

The day starts …

My day really begins at 4:30 in the morning. The first thing that I check, quite honestly, is normally Twitter, to see if there was anything that I missed overnight. On my phone, I set up Twitter alerts for the president and for different White House and campaign officials. So, normally by the morning, I'll have a flurry of alerts that I had missed while I was sleeping. And then I'll get ready for Good Morning America, and record my voice for my piece, and make sure there weren't any changes or last minute additions overnight.

Things really pick up when …

After I make sure everything is all good, I head down and do my live shot for Good Morning America. Right now, the coronavirus relief bill is in limbo, and at that point, we had heard murmurs that the president wanted to take some type of executive action. So the president unexpectedly announced a news conference on Saturday, and they allowed the White House press corps that was traveling with the president to attend. Covering this White House, you have to just be prepared for anything and be ready to go really at a moment's notice.

Once we arrive, we're swept with the secret service, we get our temperatures taken, and then we head inside the ballroom at the president's golf club. Members of the golf club were a few feet behind the press there to watch the President's press conference. I was on my phone, writing my script, so this way my editors and my producers could have something to start working on, but to be honest, my hands were sweating a little bit. I was getting a little bit nervous about whether I was going to make it back on time to be live for World News

He took questions from the press. I got a few questions in to the president about when we could expect to see the coronavirus relief that he was promising with the executive actions. And he couldn't give me a firm date on when Americans who are suffering could receive that. After that, it was a complete scramble back. We were departing the golf club and there were some goats in the middle of the road as we were departing.

By the end of the day ...

I think if you look at everything that you have to do, it's easy to get really overwhelmed. One of my mentors always told me to look at the next show, or the next press conference, to think in terms of the next, most-pressing thing that you have to do. And that has really helped me. 

The biggest times to wind down are on my days off, because you just really want to make sure that you're seeing everything and that you're catching everything, and news, with this administration, can break at any point.

Cecilia Vega, ABC News Anchor

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Cecilia Vega, Emmy-winning ABC News anchor and senior White House correspondent, said “our jobs have never been more important, at least in my lifetime,” adding, “I just think that what we're doing might sound crazy, but at the end of it, I'm so personally fulfilled by what we're doing that I've never been more exhausted, and I've never been happier.” 

While covering the Clinton campaign in  2016, Vega lived out of a suitcase for over a year and a half. Compared to four years ago, she  said the 2020 election cycle has “just completely changed everything we know about covering campaigns.”

The day starts …

So first thing I do is pick up my phones and scan to make sure I haven't missed anything overnight. And by 5:00 a.m. I'm up in full work mode to be on air for Good Morning America at 7:00 a.m.. My husband, God bless him, brings me coffee every morning by 5:00 a.m. I send my stories in at night for Good Morning America, thinking that they're done. And I wake up at 4:30 a.m. or 4:45 a.m. and everything has exploded, which is par for the course at this point.

The news just changes at such a crazy pace that, when you've tried to be productive and write something hours ahead of your hit, for the most part it ends up going by the wayside because it's all changed overnight. Sometimes it happens: my phone will alert me while I'm on air that [the president] tweeted and the story changes, and you just kind of go with it: George, this is just in here, my Twitter account just went off, here's what he said. 

Things really pick up when …

It's seriously a 24-hour cycle. I think in past beats, there was an ebb and flow to the news, and you could definitely go meet a source for lunch or something like that during the day. COVID aside — all things are different now — but that's definitely not happening anymore. There's no down time. The White House adds a briefing and you can get 20 minutes notice. So you’ve got to be ready for that. Most of the time you don't have a heads up the day before, or even the morning of. 

By the end of the day ...

I have to shut down at night for a little bit before I go to bed. It would be so easy to just stay on email and keep reading updates and stories.  I really try to shut my phone down by 9:00 p.m. and read a book that has nothing to do with the world that I'm covering, or watch some completely mindless cooking show or something like that, because otherwise it is so nonstop. You have to force yourself to turn off. Now that I'm three-and-a-half years into this beat, almost four, I think I finally have found a little bit of a way to force myself to clear my head every night. Otherwise it's just this endless hamster wheel of craziness, nonstop.

I like to cook dinners with my husband. That's the highlight of my day. I definitely try to carve out time to sit down and have a meal. It doesn't mean I'm not half looking at my phone some nights. Once I feel like I'm having dinner, things are starting to slow down and wind down a little bit. Although I say that, and honestly, then there's a tweet or The Times breaks a story, and then you're picking up your phone and you're calling sources and you're rewriting. There's no normal.

Margaret Brennan, CBS News's Face the Nation

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Margaret Brennan, moderator of CBS News' Face the Nation and senior foreign affairs correspondent, took us through her average workday, and cited a big possible change in coverage of this year’s election: “Election day may look more like election week. Our country has never voted during a pandemic,” she said. On Face the Nation, she’s been focused on issues that Americans are feeling hit close to home.“I think voters would like to know what the plan is to rebuild America, distribute a vaccine, and in the meantime help to figure out whether to send their kids to school or childcare,” Brennan told InStyle. “Politics is very personal that way this year. It is less about the head-to-head race.”

The day starts ...

I check email the moment that I wake up. That’s not very zen-like but it is my habit. If it is Sunday morning then I start off at 4:45 a.m. to make it into the office by 5:45 a.m. It is off to the races almost right away. If I don’t have to be on air then I typically wake up around 7:00 a.m.-ish. Our son Eamon is a toddler and he is almost always awake by 7:45 a.m. My goal is to have a cup of coffee in hand and a few headlines read before he wakes up.

Things really pick up when ...

Fridays and Saturdays are my most intense days as I prep for our Sunday program. This incredibly fast-moving and intense news cycle means there is a lot of often-changing information to stay on top of and it requires constant adjustment. That’s a definite stressor for all of us. Working from home at the moment means that I occasionally get to step away and give my toddler a kiss and hug. That’s the upside of the quarantine!

It is hard to ever really unplug from the news in our business, especially in this busy cycle, but I do try to keep Mondays as a day off. That said, I still contribute to other CBS programs, particularly on foreign affairs, so more often than not I’m still answering emails Mondays and often working on Tuesdays.

By the end of the day ...

On Sundays, I try to really relax after the show with a good meal. I’m ravenous after the broadcast! Afterward I put our son down for a nap and try to sleep while he does the same. That way the three of us get a few quiet hours Sunday night together as a family. My husband and I have a routine of jointly reading books to our son each night. I have a habit of reading late at night and doing some work while it is quiet. Throughout the week I try to keep a routine of working out with weights or riding the Peloton. Taking the dog for a walk while listening to a podcast is another nice decompression.

Abby Phillip, CNN Political Correspondent

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Abby Phillip, CNN political correspondent covering the 2020 presidential election, said she thinks the state of the race is so uncertain and volatile, it reminds her of the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, when every day there was a new development. She described her put-together appearance on TV as  a “total facade” — behind the scenes, she’s scrambling to make it to the studio, whipping through her notes to make sure she’s up-to-date on what her hit is about. “We're just trying to keep it together, just like everybody else,” she added. “That's our life in this new world, and it's no different from anybody else who's trying to kind of make it all work right now.”

The day begins ...

[Two or three days a week]  I'll get up at 5:00 a.m.. Usually, my husband's still sleeping, my dog is still sleeping, so I try to quietly get ready, do my own hair and makeup — which we do ourselves these days. Then, I just grab my bag and run out the door and head to our bureau. I actually recently have been one of the few people allowed back into our office, so I've been kind of doing a combination of working from home and doing TV from the office. We have this system where we kind of have to do a little bit of a health check, just to make sure that we haven't been exposed to coronavirus or don't have a fever and that sort of thing.

After that, I actually go back home because that's my time to make a pot of coffee and feed my dog and do a few life things before the day really picks up again. Then, we sit on the couch and I catch up on emails and I'm watching CNN, and I get ready for morning calls, which usually start at 8:00 a.m. 

Things really pick up when …

Sometimes, I have a piece to do for that evening, so I would have spent probably most of my morning working on my script for that piece, or sometimes I'll find out at 11:00 a.m.  that I have a story to do for that day. By noon, it's kind of like a mad rush to try to get whatever elements I need to get these days. We are doing a lot of Zoom interviews, so I'm frantically setting up. If I do them from home, then I kind of have to get my TV interview corner set up: it's just like a little corner of my living room that has a bookshelf and my plants and a window, and that's where I do my Zoom interviews, and sometimes occasionally some TV hits. 

By the end of the day ...

It feels like the day really never ends. The nice thing about being home a little bit more these days is that I can try to, on occasion, slip out and run to the grocery store to pick up stuff for dinner. Sometimes I have a piece that airs in the 4:00 p.m. hour and in the 7:00 p.m. hour, and so once I've done my live shot in the 4:00 p.m. hour there's an opportunity to get ready for dinner. If I wait until after seven, then we might not eat until eight or nine — which is not to say that my husband doesn't cook, but we try to do it together. 

Then again, if I have to do an early morning hit, by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., I'm getting requests for talking points for the next morning. There are often many days when after dinner, it's 9:00 p.m. and I'm sitting on the couch and I'm trying to catch up on emails and catch up on Twitter. These days I've been going to bed a lot later than I would like to go to bed. I think everybody's probably experiencing something like this, but it's been hard to get to bed earlier. I try to really start winding down by 11:00 p.m. and if I can do it by then, that's a victory.

Kristen Welker, NBC's Weekend TODAY Co-anchor

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Kristen Welker, co-anchor of Weekend TODAY and NBC News White House correspondent whose reporting appears across NBC platforms, told InStyle she also thinks we may not see a traditional election night. If people vote by mail, results could take longer to come in, so she and her team are  preparing to cover election night for weeks. “I do think people would be surprised to know that journalists from various news outlets are in this together in many ways in terms of these long hours and in terms of really sharing a desire to get information to the American people,” she told InStyle. “I have great respect for them, and they're really like a second work family. And, of course, I have the utmost respect for my NBC family.”

The day begins …

If I'm going to the White House, my alarm goes off at 5:00 a.m. Typically there is no snoozing; jump out of bed, text my producer, often start texting with sources if there's breaking news that's happened overnight, and I'm off and running from that moment on. And that includes, by the way, getting ready at home, which often takes a little bit longer than my male counterparts, because I have to do my hair, do my makeup. Then I get into work and we are live for the TODAY Show at 7:00 a.m. And it's an incredibly fast-paced day. 

And then on Saturdays, the alarm goes off a little bit earlier, before 4:00 AM, and I head into the Washington, D.C. Bureau where I anchor with my good friend, Peter Alexander. From the moment that I get to the D.C. Bureau, we are talking about editorial guests [and] questions for guests. We love doing the show because it's a chance for us to not only talk about the week that was, but to look forward to everything that people are talking about and thinking about heading into the next week.

Things really pick up when ...

It's not unusual for us to feel like we're in a sprint from the moment that we wake up until the moment that we leave work. It's intense work. We are in a constant state of not only doing live shots, but trying to push our reporting forward. That's so critical, particularly as we're in an election year, to make sure that voters are getting the information that they need to make sure that we're fact-checking the candidates, the president. There's a constant churn that happens to make sure that we are getting the most accurate information out to people that we possibly can. Part of that process is making calls, working sources, doing fact checking, but also just doing live shots.

By the end of the day ...

It's so important for me to unplug for a little bit, to have dinner with my husband. He's a great cook. I'm very fortunate. He's often getting dinner ready, and we just sit and talk. We talk about the day, and that is one of the most important parts of my day, without a doubt. I am often working on my TODAY Show script for the next day into the evening; he's very patient with that. But again, when we are having our dinner, I unplug. I put the computer away and put the phones away, and I just sit and I try to be as present as possible. I think it's just so important to do that. It's important to always put family first. He is my greatest supporter and my greatest partner in all of this, and those moments are just critical. Then, we also just like to have quiet time, whether it's watching TV or having a few moments to read before bed. And those are the moments where I really get to just connect to family.

Ali Vitali, NBC News Political Reporter

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Ali Vitali, a political reporter for NBC News, first covered a presidential election in 2016 — one she described as “unprecedented and unexpected in so many ways.” Now, Vitali told InStyle, we’re in another totally unprecedented moment. As Vitali took us through a day in her life, she pointed out that working in TV broadly, and especially in political reporting, is a team game, even if viewers only see correspondents. From the crew to producers, behind-the-scenes, there’s a group effort that goes into what viewers see every day. “Maybe it’s the high school soccer player still in me,” Vitali told InStyle. “But team ball is the only way to go in this business. And we’re all dedicated to working 24/7 between now and November to get this story right.”

The day begins …

The moment I swipe off “do not disturb” mode on my phone, it’s a flood of email notifications and Twitter alerts for key politicians, strategists, and other beat reporters that I follow. Technically my day begins whenever the first live shot is set, but really it starts hours earlier — combing my inbox, trying to establish the best frame for our story that day, and checking in with sources who can push our reporting forward. I find immersing myself in my beat helps me think in new and unique ways about the stories we’re covering, but it does also make it harder to find an “off” switch. That’s the thing about covering presidential elections, though: it’s an expectation I set for myself to brace for a really hard-charging 18 months of travel, long days, lots of intense reporting, while remembering that by the end of 2020 we’ll run through the tape and then it’ll end (and you’ll miss it!). You can sleep once the ballots are counted.

 Things really pick up when ...

Stressed is kind of my normal resting state at this point. A trigger in many of the stressful scenarios I deal with is usually any tweet that starts with “NEW” or “scoop.” That sets off a mad scramble from every reporter on a beat, trying to confirm the story, trying to learn more nuggets that we can report, trying to build on what colleagues are hearing. The pandemic, though, has changed the pace of things and it’s also meant expanding what stories I am working on. I focus heavily on the 2020 campaign and Biden-Harris ticket, but I’ve also been reporting on states reopening and working on a new series about the “she-cession,” talking about how women are impacted by the pandemic and the recession. The common thread through all of this reporting is the question I constantly ask myself: "What am I teaching people today that they may not have known before?" My colleague and MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle always talks at the start of her show about “let’s get smarter” and I love that, because it’s my goal, too. 

By end of day ...

The pandemic slowing down our previously-constant travel has meant spending more nights in my own bed than at any other point in the last five years. So just that simple repetition of knowing where I am when I wake up helps me power down every night. I’m a big self-care fan, too, so when I am on the road I always bring sheet masks, a cozy sweatshirt, and lavender oil to try to bring myself into a less work-intensive mindset. I’m also working on a book right now about women in politics and the 2020 election — a topic I’m really passionate about, but one that requires me to look at the big picture, so getting out of the daily grind and into a good, more relaxed headspace is crucial.