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‘A moment of history’ - How this newspaper responded to the coronavirus pandemic

PUBLISHED: 08:19 06 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:57 06 October 2020

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop launching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help campaign. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Reporter Donna-Louise Bishop launching the Not Alone (pen pal initiative) string of the Here to Help campaign. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

As part of Journalism Matters week, editor David Powles reflects on how his team responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

Balanced, fair and non-sensationalist reporting has been so important during the pandemic. Picture: PA ImagesBalanced, fair and non-sensationalist reporting has been so important during the pandemic. Picture: PA Images

I can distinctly remember the moment it all started to get very real and very serious.

On Monday, March 23, at 5pm, a handful of us still working from the newsroom stood around the television as prime minister Boris Johnson made that fateful announcement.

“Good evening,” he said. “Coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades – and this country is not alone.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Lockdown had started.

Chris Goreham, of BBC Radio Norfolk Picture: SubmittedChris Goreham, of BBC Radio Norfolk Picture: Submitted

Of course, we had been taking coronavirus seriously up to then. It had dominated the front pages of our daily titles for weeks.

However, I’m sure until that point all of us had held onto a glimmer of hope the virus would simply fade out and normal live would soon return. Sadly we are still waiting.

But for those of us involved in putting out two daily and several weekly newspapers, as well as overseeing numerous websites for the region, the prime minister’s address kick-started a chain of events that would make history for our industry.

Overnight we were suddenly confronted with the challenge of producing the titles with the entire workforce based from home, working from laptops in home offices, kitchen tops, bedrooms, living rooms and even, in the case of one of our journalists, outside in the garden.

EDP front from 8 April 2020. Picture: ArchantEDP front from 8 April 2020. Picture: Archant

On top of this, just like everywhere else, each individual was battling their own personal concerns and fears about the unfolding events.

I’m delighted to report that not only did our technology hold up, but so too did the team. I remain so grateful to and proud of every single one of them for the way they have reacted to the pandemic and continued to fulfil our vital role, which remains to provide fair, balanced and informative public interest journalism, challenge where need be and entertain as well.

The weeks that followed the lockdown announcement are a bit of a blur. I can’t be the only one who looks back on March and April and thinks they were a bit like a bad dream?

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So many of us were running on adrenaline, trying to balance the challenges thrown up by work and home and not get overwhelmed by it all.

At the time I felt we had, and continue to have, a vital role in helping the region get through the crisis. Not only was it our jobs to keep people up to date on the latest infection rates and restrictions, but to highlight failings if they occurred, galvanise the public to act where need be and generally try to keep people’s spirits up.

Ways we did this included the Here To Help initiative, which highlighted community support, Not Alone, aimed at helping people with the mental health challenges they faced and connecting individuals through a pen-pal scheme, Love Local, to try and kick-start the local economy and help our independents, daily home schooling pages for parents struggling for ideas and even, on a lighter note, Ian Clarke’s dad jokes, to raise a much needed smile.

I’ve no doubt that over the next few months campaigns like this will continue to be needed. We already have important plans in place aimed at helping the region and its people get through any second spike and come out the other side in as good a place as possible.

EDP front from 20 March 2020. Picture: ArchantEDP front from 20 March 2020. Picture: Archant

These remain challenging times for all of us - but this newspaper remains right there with you every step of the way.

JOURNALISM MATTERS WEEK

Our industry has set out several proposals for how the government can help us out by reducing the huge imbalance in bargaining power between the news media and the giant tech companies, which free-ride on our valuable content. You can read more about these proposals at www.newsmediauk.org.

Norwich Evening News front from 4 April 2020. Picture: ArchantNorwich Evening News front from 4 April 2020. Picture: Archant

You can help by emailing or writing to your MP and asking them to put pressure on the government to implement these proposals. You can write to them at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA of find their email address on their respective websites.

If you prefer to read our work in print, please guarantee yourself a copy by taking out a subscription. You can do this by calling 01603 772138 or emailing readerservices@archant.co.uk.

If you are reading on your smartphone, laptop or tablet, you can help out by pledging a one-off or recurring amount to support our journalism. Just click on the ‘Become A Supporter’ boxes on our sites and in our newsletters.

The worst of circumstances has shown the best of local journalism. As we move forward, news media will be a critical part of our recovery by continuing to keep the you informed and also by providing a unique boost to local business.

EDP front from 1 April 2020. Picture: ArchantEDP front from 1 April 2020. Picture: Archant

So if you agree that Journalism Matters, get behind our news media industry so that it can continue to perform this vital role and deliver the journalism we all want to read.

Editor David Powles will be discussing Journalism Matters, the future of the news media industry and what it takes to edit in a digital, post-pandemic age in a special live Q&A hosted by the BBC’s Chris Goreham at 3pm on Thursday, October 8. You can send questions in advance to david.powles@archant.co.uk, marking ‘Editor Q&A’ in the subject field, and sign up to join us live on the same email address.


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