COVID-19 impacted many sections of news coverage including politics, sports, business and more. Should journalists let a pandemic be the sole angle?
Recently, our independent student newspaper, the Daily Athenaeum, published a video reminding students that we wouldn’t have any more print editions this semester. Our video editor spliced together footage showing the various places our staff is working. Some of them are states away. Some of them, like me, are sitting at a desk in an apartment in Morgantown, which holds the main campus of WVU. Some of those in Morgantown are only a couple hundred yards away from me. Despite that, I’m not expecting to see any of them in-person until well after my virtual graduation ceremony. I’m not even sure when I’ll see my family again.
As I write this, the DA is covering a Morgantown City Council meeting conducted on Zoom. Few aspects of life are untouched by COVID-19. When posed the question of whether the pandemic should be journalists’ sole angle, it’s hard not to scratch your head and wonder, “How can it not be?” This is especially true of the typical day-to-day coverage a news source provides, which used to be filled with headlines about sporting and cultural events that are now canceled.
Lives have been lost. Many more lives will be lost. West Virginia is the state with the highest percentage of adults at-risk of serious illness if infected by coronavirus, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Throughout this pandemic, journalists must continue to keep the government accountable and all people informed.
That doesn’t mean journalists should let the pandemic stymie coverage unrelated to COVID-19, if some are able to work on other topics. On my list of things to do this week is send a Freedom of Information Act request about WVU parking tickets and another for information about certain drug possession charges in Morgantown. Yet, as the crisis intensifies, the increasingly limited resources of many news sources will have to be diverted to cover coronavirus and all matters affected by it.
Readers are counting on us.
Ever since working from home, social distancing, and virtual learning have become a way of life, everyone’s been talking about the “new normal.” The coronavirus pandemic has definitely impacted nearly all facets of our lives, but as a journalist in a small rural area I realize life does go on despite the health crisis. And it is our place as the community news source to try to share as much of that as possible.
A perfect example is a prestigious award handed out every year at one of our local high schools. The award is given in memory of a graduate of the school who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and it recognizes three young men who have worked to live up to some very high standards throughout their entire high school careers.
With school cancelled in West Virginia since March 13, it would seem that the award, traditionally given in April, would for the first time in 75 years be cancelled as well.
But tradition must go on, and not only were the three candidates chosen for the award, but they were our top A1 story on March 28—in a place of honor above the latest pandemic news.
On a smaller scale, we have made sure our pages have also honored two local corn growers for awards they received, and we have been diligently covering a local town’s desperate search for a new water source and another town’s quest for funding for a new town hall.
Life does indeed go on and there are still some “normal” issues and events that should be covered by the local news media.
And quite frankly, our readers need to know there is still some “normal” out there.
by Evelyn Mateos, Editor & Publisher