‘A moment of history’ - How this newspaper responded to the coronavirus pandemic
PUBLISHED: 08:19 06 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:57 06 October 2020
As part of Journalism Matters week, editor David Powles reflects on how his team responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
I can distinctly remember the moment it all started to get very real and very serious.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, marking ‘Editor Q&A’ in the subject field, and sign up to join us live on the same email address.
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