Two months ago I pledged to our readers – to our community, really – that no matter what happened with the coronavirus pandemic, the Times Citizen would be here for you.
And we’ve kept that promise.
We’ve attended meetings of public boards – in person and via video conferencing; we’ve photographed parades – traditional and reverse; we’ve talked with business owners about the struggles they’re facing; we’ve shared the story of Hardin County’s first COVID-19 patient – from diagnosis to recovery; and we’ve kept you up to date on the number of coronavirus cases diagnosed here and how health officials have been responding.
Along the way we’ve had to get a little creative. Our weekly Teacher Spotlight features have been accompanied by selfies, file photos and drive-by shots of educators, who are normally photographed in their classrooms. And our sports department, which should have been driving all over the state to cover spring sports, replaced that content with stories about at-home workouts, retrospectives on locally-famous athletic moments, and a newly-launched feature that introduces readers to Hardin County’s coaches.
We’ve written stories at our kitchen tables, we’ve conducted phone interviews in our cars, and we’ve steamed up the backs of cameras through face masks.
But none of this is out of the ordinary in today’s world. We’re like every other business – we’ve had to find ways to provide our service without endangering our employees’ or other people’s health. We still have to cover the news – now more than ever!
And here we find ourselves, two months later and entering a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Kim Reynolds has allowed almost all activity to resume. Restaurants and shops are open, theaters screens are re-lit and parks are full of campers.
Today’s paper includes a story about the changes to COVID-19 testing at Hansen Family Hospital. The tent will disappear, and tests will be conducted in the ambulance garage on the building’s east side. The hospital needed to find a way to integrate its coronavirus response into its daily processes. Our newsroom is at a very similar point.
None of this is to say that the coronavirus pandemic is behind us – far from it. Scientists and health professionals have told us it will be months, maybe a year or longer, before the threat of COVID-19 eases. I know that there are many people who believe coronavirus is overblown, that the media are inflating the seriousness of the virus. But infectious disease experts tell us that’s not true. And all I have to do is think of Justin Weber in Eldora – a 60-year-old husband and father who came frighteningly close to dying of COVID-19 – to remind myself that this virus should be taken seriously.
While our newsroom staff will likely maintain mostly-remote work for the foreseeable future, we’re transitioning to yet another new “normal.” That doesn’t mean our coverage will change – we’ll still report news around COVID-19 and its effects in Hardin County – but as everyday activities resume, we’ll have to cover that news, too.
In normal circumstances, the bulk of our reporting is locked behind a paywall, accessible only to subscribers. But in March, we made the decision to put all of our COVID-19 stories in front of that paywall as a public service.
Now, as we shift again, we’ll still keep public health stories – coverage of COVID-19 case counts and other public health information – free. But other stories, whether they’re coverage of Iowa Falls’ urban chicken debate redux or a feature about the ways businesses are adapting to COVID-19 social distancing rules, will be accessible only to subscribers.
We hope you’ll stick with us as we continue on this journey together, and we hope you’ll stay in touch. We’ve been fortunate to be able to tell so many good stories amid the news about the pandemic. Don’t stop sharing your ideas with us.
We’re still here for you. And we still need you.
Sara Konrad Baranowski is the editor of the Times Citizen.