Meet the CNN Staffer Who's Essential to Keeping Its Atlanta HQ Running

Courtesy of WarnerMedia
John Camacho

John Camacho, a 21-year company veteran and senior engineer, describes his new social distancing normal as he keeps the CNN Center functioning amid the coronavirus shutdown.

Like most broadcasters, CNN has adapted to the social distancing mandates that have been put in place across the country. The network's anchors now routinely broadcast from their homes.

They are able to go on the air amid the pandemic thanks to a group of staffers who continue to go to work. One of those workers is John Camacho, a senior BTS engineer on the company’s broadcast technology services team. He’s part of a four-person team that works the day shift at the CNN Center in Atlanta, where he monitors the broadcasting equipment and performs routine maintenance to ensure that the news network's signal continues to reach viewers’ homes, even during a nationwide shutdown.

Though he’s still driving into the office each day, Camacho has found himself navigating a new normal, too. He’s working longer hours, video conferencing with his colleagues to avoid face-to-face interactions and taking extra precautions to keep his family isolating at home — including his wife and one of two adult sons — safe.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with the 21-year company veteran on one of his days off to discuss his new work routine and his positive outlook on the future: "I think we're going to start learning how to be better as human beings."

Explain why your job requires you to continue to go into the office.

I’m a senior video engineer for CNN. We are the maintenance and engineers who keep CNN on air. Some aspects of the equipment cannot be remotely controlled offsite. If a camera fails and you need to bring in another camera or repair that camera before the next show, we are there. If the database or the server itself fails, you have to physically be there to repair that system. I have a slogan that I created when this all happened, which is, “When news breaks, we fix it.” We’re the team that makes sure everything is flowing nicely. If everything is flowing nicely, you’ll see the news and everyone is happy.

Tell me about your current workday.

We have two shifts. I’m on the blue team, which works from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. We get in around 5:30 a.m., have a virtual shift change where we talk about what has happened during our shifts — what is pending repair or is still having issues. During the day, we’re maintaining master control. We make sure that they’re OK, that their equipment is working fine. It’s been busy. It’s a lot of walking. When I get home, my back hurts.

How does this differ from your typical routine?

My normal schedule is Wednesday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., with 30 minutes for lunch. Now I’m working Thursday through Sunday, doing four twelves. A normal day, I walk in, we have a regular meeting, we chat and make sure everything is running. I’ll sit at my desk and read my emails. I’m just monitoring a lot of the incoming signals coming into the CNN Center. It’s really a slow day. But with this pandemic, it’s almost like everyone is on their toes to make sure every piece of equipment is running. I’ll give you an example: CNN has two control rooms, but they created another backup control room just in case the second control room is contaminated. So we have to make sure that control room has all the content and all the video bugs that you see on the screen.

What is it like inside CNN Center these days?

We’re still seeing the production team because there’s a crew inside the control room. [CNN is maintaining a skeleton crew out of New York's Hudson Yards but most production has shifted to Atlanta.] But it’s eerie. CNN Center is always bustling, whether it’s people downstairs in the food court or people mingling, coming in and out. There’s always a tour. Now, walking through the hallways, there’s no one there.

What precautions is CNN taking to protect you and your colleagues?

One thing I admire about my management team is that they want to be sure we don’t get sick. We all have gloves and if we have to wear a mask, we will. Every time we leave a shift and a new shift shows up, the cleaning crew comes in. They've been doing a wonderful job cleaning everything. And we wipe down ourselves. I like to keep my station clean. On my weekend, before I leave, I clean it and I cover it with a piece of paper towel. It lets folks know, “It’s been cleaned; please do not touch.”

Are you doing anything else to keep yourself safe?

When I get home, my wife leaves a set of clothes in the garage. I take the clothes that I currently have on, put them in a black bag, change clothes, go upstairs, take a shower, take those clothes and wash them. The same clothes that I wash, I use again, just to make sure that I’m not contaminating other clothes.

Is CNN compensating you differently for working during this time?

I’m an hourly employee, so they’re going to compensate me. And they’ve been very good at making sure that if we’re there, we’re being fed. They are really at it when it comes to making sure the crew gets taken care of. If your crew is not being taken care of and anyone gets sick, your on-air product is going to hurt.

How is your family adjusting to your new routine?

My wife has always been supportive of me. If I have to work long hours, she understands. It’s a situation we never thought was going to happen, but now that it has happened, she says, “You need to make sure you just take care of yourself. Take vitamins in the morning, make sure you wash your hands.” She’s always pushing that point, make sure you wash your hands.

How are you keeping busy at home when you’re not at work?

We’re still a normal family. We’ll have dinner together. We’ll watch a movie once in a while. My wife is working from home, so she’s in her office, doing her work. My son, most likely he’s downstairs relaxing, playing video games or chatting with his friends on the phone.

Have you picked up any hobbies?

I’m a musician. I play piano and bass. Sometimes I’ll go and sit down and just play a couple of tunes. Or I’ll go outside with my son in the yard. We’ve been throwing the baseball around.

Is there anything you're looking forward to doing once this is all over?

Go see a baseball game. I’m a New York Mets fan. I love to see games, whether on TV or in the stadium. I just love the feel of it, that and soccer. Those two sports, I’m missing them right now.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.