From voting to vaccines to vacations
TVNZ foreign correspondent Anna Burns-Francis landed in the USA in the middle of a global pandemic and an emotionally charged presidential election. She shares her stories from behind the camera and tells us about the opportunities she sees in a country that’s starting to reopen.
For some people the idea of relocating to the USA in the middle of COVID would be enough to make them reconsider their job. But for TVNZ foreign correspondent Anna Burns-Francis, not even a global pandemic was going to stop her from covering one of America’s biggest elections.
“Covid-19 became the theme of my life, my ability to get to New York and start my job was all about what level Covid-19 was at, setting myself up in New York was harder because the Government departments were closed, I had to report on the pandemic, and then, most importantly there was this huge election, and the overarching theme was, how do I cover it and not catch Covid-19?”
Not long after landing in New York, Anna hit the road following Joe Biden and Donald Trump as they made their final campaign pushes. Despite being immersed in the election she says it was impossible to know the outcome.
“It was so hard to call, the race just kept changing and changing. It wasn’t until five days after the election that we even got a result. The early postal vote swung it like no one had ever seen before, then we had an incumbent President calling the results illegitimate before they were even fully in. There were so many emotions from people and there was this incredible wave of anger that seemed to just keep building, leading to the riots on Capitol Hill, and then really all the way through until President Biden’s inauguration.”
For many people the job looks exciting. The US correspondent covers everything from elections, to awards shows to wild weather, to terror attacks and everything in between. But there is also the flip side, long days, tight deadlines, and constantly juggling time zones,
“I basically work from my living room a lot of the time, especially in a pandemic era. World news comes to you from my lounge! It’s definitely not always as glamorous as it seems. When we were on the road for the election we picked our hotels based on how close they were to a wholefoods supermarket, we knew we could buy pre packed salads and cheese sticks wrapped in plastic from there, we didn’t want to risk eating out in case we got Covid-19, so five weeks eating cheese sticks seemed a safer bet.”
While the pandemic certainly presented some challenges, Anna says the hardest thing about moving was negotiating her way through American red tape.
“I use my cellphone to cross live into the New Zealand news, and one night right before the 6pm broadcast my phone was inexplicably cut off, turns out I had been calling home so much they assumed I was up to something illegal and had disabled my number. It took two days to get reconnected. Setting up a social security number and a bank account was also very difficult. If you can afford to move over here and set yourself up you can solve anything. They could give any immigrant the calculations to fire the next space rocket and they would solve it because they have managed to work out how to get a bank account and a social security number in America.”
Working as a reporter in a new place Anna has to connect with people on a daily basis and says she’s also been lucky enough to meet other really interesting Kiwi.
“My job is about connections, it requires me to touch base with people. There are some really interesting Kiwi over here doing some really cool innovative stuff. The best thing about New York is that you are free to be whomever you want to be, and do whatever you want to do and everyone accepts that. However, that’s also the worst thing about New York, everyone is in their own bubble, blinkers on. So the nice thing about connecting with other New Zealanders is that they also like to make those bonds and it’s a great connection to home.”
Some of those Kiwi she met in the early days have returned home or moved on, Anna says the pandemic has had a huge effect on businesses, but where opportunities have closed for some they are starting to open up for others.
“A lot of Kiwi businesses in New York were based around tourism, hospitality or entertainment, and it’s been really hard for them. But at the same time there are Kiwi coming here now that are able to take advantage of a post pandemic world. Rents are cheaper and people are used to doing things over zoom. There is a chance for Kiwi businesses to really get their feet under the table and be part of a city that is opening up again.”
A year into her contract and Anna says she’s excited about what lies ahead and she’s not just talking about the stories she will have the opportunity to cover.
“I would like to think some of us offshore Kiwi can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, especially in areas that are vaccinated. For those of us who can’t get home at the moment, the world is a great place to travel right now, to find new experiences and see some beautiful places that aren’t jam packed with tourists. I think if you are overseas then it’s a great time to get out and explore after a pretty closed year and a half.”
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