The Essentials: Tribune staff adapts during pandemic

Detroit Lakes journalists (clockwise from top left): Nathan Bowe, Desiree Bauer, J.J. Perry and Vicki Gerdes. (Tribune photos)

Editor's note: Journalists were among those deemed "essential workers" in Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, we conclude our series The Essentials with some thoughts from Tribune journalists on the effect of the pandemic on them and their work.

The newspaper changed, too

I cover Becker County and the courts and cops beat for the Tribune, but in a small newspaper all us reporters cover all sorts of stories -- hard news, features, business, and so on, and our beats can overlap.

Working during the pandemic has made me realize how much I prefer talking to sources in person. The telephone is fine for some stories, especially hard news, "just the facts, ma’am," interviews. But I miss face-to-face, on-the-scene interaction, where you can get a feel for the person and the situation.

When you’re interviewing someone for a story, you’re asking them to trust that you’ll take what they say seriously, treat it respectfully, and give their truth the dignity it deserves. And it’s a lot easier to establish that trust in person.


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News Editor Nathan Bowe has been working at the newspaper office during the pandemic. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

Social distancing and wearing a mask should be no-brainers. But it’s pretty tough to talk to people from 6-feet away while wearing a mask. If you’re working in a loud environment, like covering a protest, nobody is going to hear you and you aren’t going to hear them.

I usually wear a mask out of respect for the person I’m talking to, just like I wear a mask in stores out of respect for the people working there.

But like it or not, mask-wearing is considered a political statement by some people, and I don’t wear one if I think it’s going to stop sources from trusting me and talking to me openly. And there have been times I haven’t worn one just to go along with the crowd, because nobody else at that meeting or event is wearing one.

I’m one of a handful of newspaper employees still working out of the office, rather than from home. But one thing I won’t forget from this time is the deep sadness of watching others here lose their jobs, their positions eliminated, one co-worker crying while packing up personal stuff. Because COVID-19 has changed how the newspaper operates, just like it has changed everything else.

-- News Editor Nathan Bowe

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Reporter Desiree Bauer has been working from home longer than any other reporter at the Tribune. She passed her free time doing things that bring her happiness, including making a "way larger-than-expected and slightly crooked T-shirt blanket." (Submitted photo)


Focusing on the positive

A trip to Florida before the pandemic made me start working from home ahead of everyone else. At the time, I was alone in my grandparents' house. But when they come home from wintering in Arizona three weeks later, I was back to living at home with my parents and two sisters.

That meant working out of my small childhood bedroom that doesn’t have AC. For my hedgehog, the heat and having me home 24/7 has been amazing. For me and my dad, whose office is only separated by my bedroom door and wall, it’s been a cycle of quickly moving or shutting off my obnoxiously loud fan because one of us has a phone call.

In my after-work hours I’ve returned to doing the things that make me happy. My dog’s been loving the daily walk around the lake. I started writing fiction again and made some macrame rope plant hangers for my still alive plants. I made a way larger-than-expected and slightly crooked T-shirt blanket that I’m very proud of.

The pandemic hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows for me; my anxiety has increased and I think I’ve gained the "quarantine 15" like everyone else. But, these positives are what I’m focusing on.

-- Reporter Desiree Bauer

Reporter Vicki Gerdes has been holding down the fort at the Detroit Lakes Newspapers office, where only a handful are still working during COVID-19. (Denise Kieselhorst/Tribune)

'I missed my life'

I have been a news reporter for more than 30 years — 20 of those right here at the Detroit Lakes Tribune — so I thought there wasn’t a lot that could phase me. Then along came COVID-19.


I never thought of myself as a social person, but with no events happening, no social gatherings — not even being able to go spend Easter Sunday with my family, who live in southern Minnesota — the isolation began to get on my nerves. There’s only so much television a person can watch before the walls start to close in. Being mildly claustrophobic, I found myself going out for long walks, or taking a drive around town, just to stave off the kind of panic attacks I haven’t experienced in years. Yes, I sometimes worried about getting the coronavirus, but I was even more worried about things never getting back to “normal” again. I missed my life.

Even my job was affected. Though I still went into work every day, there were only five of us who continued to work at the office, and not from home. The quiet was a little unnerving.

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Suddenly, there was none of the hustle and bustle of traveling to and from the office multiple times each day, covering events and tracking down leads for stories … most interviews were conducted by phone, meetings were conducted via Zoom, and photos that went with the stories we wrote were images of empty parking lots, buildings, sports venues, parks and playgrounds. Yet news reporters were considered to be “essential,” so I never really had the option of saying, “Stop the world, I want to get off.”

Though life is gradually beginning to resume some semblance of normalcy, I often wonder what the lasting effects of this pandemic will be: How many restaurants, theaters, and other favorite haunts will never reopen? Will we have to continue carrying a mask around with us to do daily tasks, washing our hands obsessively, and sanitizing our work desks multiple times each day?

I also find myself appreciating the little things more … I got ridiculously excited the first time I was able to go out with my friends for a drink after work, and I can’t wait to be able to watch a movie in an actual theater again, rather than my living room.

-- Reporter Vicki Gerdes


Editor J.J. Perry has been proud of his reporting team -- from a safe distance, in his dining room/home office -- for doing a great job under extraordinary circumstances. (J.J. Perry/Tribune)

Getting through 2020 together

“Sometimes we do things, even though they’re hard.”

This piece of advice was offered by an editor long ago.

But there is “hard,” and then there is “2020 hard.”

Yes, “2020 hard” is adjusting everything in your life -- your job, your family, your goals and priorities -- to the situation around you.

That editor might not recognize this journalist, working in a T-shirt and no shoes, ticking away at a laptop on a dining room table. This doesn’t look like “newspaper” work.

What she would recognize is the responsibility of journalists to continue to keep their communities informed. Keep them thinking. Keep them safe. And, sometimes, keep ‘em laughing.


Journalists were deemed “essential workers” by the state of Minnesota during the COVID-19 shutdown. And, yes, we consider “good news stories about your neighbors” to be essential, too.

Of all the disruptions and changes to routine, it’s the little things that help you keep going. That might be a sit-down lunch with my spouse with an episode of “Cheers” on Netflix. It might be a reader who is happy to chat when asked “How are you doing? You OK?” It might be the colorful chalk messages on the sidewalk jotted by a neighbor kid.

And it might be knowing your team is doing a great job under extraordinary circumstances, delivering the news without interruption. I love that that has been a through-line during one of the biggest periods of change we’ve witnessed in our lifetimes.

It is hard to know what life will look like when we come out of this pandemic. But we will be able to look at each other, and nod knowing that we made it through 2020 together.

-- Editor J.J. Perry

Bowe covers the Becker County Board and the court system for the Tribune, and handles the opinion pages for the Tribune and Focus. As news editor of both papers, he is the go-to contact person for readers and the general public: breaking or hard news tips, story ideas, questions and general feedback should be directed to him.
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