Even during the best of times, Melissa Ross serves as a sounding board for the passionate opinions–sometimes frustrations–of Northeast Florida. In the time of coronavirus, though, Ross’s First Coast Connect news program, which airs live on weekday mornings from 9-10 a.m. on WJCT Public Media (89.9FM), seems like a daily group therapy session, as Ross tries to help the region make sense of a truly bizarre state of affairs.
Through it all Ross has lent a calm and clear voice to important and difficult discussions about a truly unique and anxiety inducing crisis. No surprise there, really. Ross has been hosting First Coast Connect for 10 years. She’s a seasoned news biz pro. And before this open-ended pandemic, she could have argued she’s seen it all.
FCC carries on, with Ross interviewing guests remotely, discussing topics of regional import, and, of course, lending her ear to the callers who light up the station’s switchboard each day. We asked Ross how the current crisis compares to other things she’s covered and how she manages to stay chill-AF.
How are you doing? Are you able to take a break from paying attention to this global pandemic?
Doing OK, actually. I’m still coming into WJCT every day, along with just a few other people. It’s very quiet and peaceful in the building, and we are totally focused on our jobs. When I get home, I do try to take a break from the news. I watch Netflix like everybody else!
Do you think folks should be taking a break from the news every now and again?
They should. I’m not the best at meditation, but I try to do it in the mornings. Meditation, yoga, long walks, anything that calms you is helpful right now.
You’ve lent, in my opinion, a very calm and clear voice to coverage of this pandemic locally. What’s your secret? How do you keep from unraveling?
Oh, I’ve had my moments of worry and anger, like everyone. But you cannot ever let that onto the air. Airtime is sacred. When someone puts you in front of a camera or a microphone, they’re entrusting you with informing the public and doing a great show, or newscast. We take that pretty seriously. I don’t have a secret, other than just decades of doing this kind of work. When the red light goes on, nothing else matters but doing the best possible job.
You host a show five days a week, typically interviewing guests face-to-face in the studio. Has it been difficult to now do everything over the phone? Do you feel like anything is lost by not interviewing people in person?
It is always better to be face-to-face. I have always been blown away by how well Terry Gross of “Fresh Air” interviews her guests remotely, and never sees them in person. You would never know, she’s so good! It’s not more difficult to do phone interviews, but unless you already know the person, you can sometimes lose some of the intimacy of a great live interview.
In that same vein, from talking to people all over the region, are there ways in which this whole mess has brought us closer together?
I think the way the community is finding ways to support the most vulnerable in our area has been wonderful. There are many, many examples of companies making masks, delivering food, raising money, and on and on. There is a sense of unity in this crisis.
You’re a seasoned news biz pro. You’ve seen and covered it all. Locally, how we looking on the other side of this thing? Will we be better for our struggles?
Let’s hope so. I also think the pandemic will change industries and cultural norms in both big and small ways. Out of this crisis will come change, in ways we probably can’t fully predict right now.
This interview originally appeared in Void Magazine’s May 2020 issue, The Check In. Click the mag below to read more interviews with Jacksonville artists, musicians, and eternal optimists.