I don’t know about you, but we have had a routine week around here.
Just kidding! This has probably been the most uncertain and stressful week of my almost 40-year career.
With all that is happening locally, statewide and around the world, it’s hard not to feel a sense of panic over the spread of COVID-19. Now, I consider myself to be an unusually placid person and skeptical about over-hyped events, but I did find myself wondering if there might be a couple of spare rolls of toilet paper in the travel trailer.
Trying to tamp down this sense of panic is a big role for us here at The Columbian. We need to bring readers the information they need without triggering another round of panic-buying or other sorts of uncivil behavior.
We are also trying to do this while being respectful of our employees’ health concerns. One of the most enjoyable things about working in a newsroom is being in close proximity to smart, informed, engaged people all day long. But with social distancing as the order of the day, we have scattered. Drawing upon our pre-existing disaster plans, we have offered work-at-home options for nearly all of our newsroom employees, and the majority have taken us up on it.
In other words, it’s been a week of balancing a news tsunami with a workflow tornado. No wonder we are feeling a bit winded. (Sorry for the dad joke.)
Our customers are seeing some of the changes. For one thing, we realized late last week that we were not going to be able to fill a daily six-page sports section, and, with community events, movies, or dine-in restaurants temporarily off limits, it was also unlikely we would need a large Weekend section. So we have collapsed our pages into two bigger sections. This allows us a lot more flexibility in allocating pages.
For now, we are keeping three pages for Sports. There is some professional football trade and draft news, and locally, we have repurposed what would have been the content of our spring sports special section into a series of profile stories. I am very glad we get to talk about these student athletes and share their stories. They have worked hard and deserve the recognition they now cannot earn on the field.
We published an abbreviated Weekend section on Friday, but I doubt we will print another one until we recover. The smattering of TV news that has appeared there can be printed in our daily paper. We will make a final decision on this in the next few days.
Here are some other things we have had to decide on this week:
• Several readers suggested we have a list of which restaurants are remaining open for takeout food, and post their menus. With hundreds of outlets in Clark County and plans changing by the hour, this is too big a task for Monika Spykerman, our features news assistant. So we had one of our restaurant writers, Rachel Pinsky, put together an admittedly abridged list that ran in our Thursday paper, but there’s no guarantee it will be in effect today. I would suggest you call ahead to order your takeout. In addition, our website wizards are developing a tool where local restaurants can self-report their takeout days and hours. I am hoping that this will be online today or in the next day or two.
• We had calls and emails from people saying they were concerned about endeavors that seem to be continuing — such as construction and air travel. We decided that our threshold for a story will be if an activity continues despite a direct order to desist by someone in authority, such as the county health officer. We are in no position to judge the health risks of human activities, and those who are experts in that field are dealing with emergencies and don’t have time for “what-ifs.”
I feel a little better now that I have written this. But these are unusual times, and bad news still looms. If we work together, stay informed and don’t panic, we can weather it. Finally, thank you for reading and supporting The Columbian. We are proud to invest your subscription dollars into serving our community.