As I write this from my new “office” (at my dining room table, with laptop on placemats and power cords strewn about), my mind keeps coming back to the same question: Is the coronavirus pandemic the biggest story of our lives?
How can that be? Like many of you, I have a long memory. I recall being in my Indiana newsroom on a Tuesday morning in 2001, and how the events of that day forever changed our country.
We were unified on Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 12 and … for some time after that.
This, however, the response to the pandemic, has so much potential to do irreparable damage, damage that can't be answered by traditional means.
There are people dying, quickly. Businesses are closed for who knows how long. And, this weekend, we are in the early days of a “stay at home” order from Gov. Tim Walz.
I think some of the introverts among us think we understand staying at home. Today, it doesn’t seem like much. Two weeks from now, who knows? The week after that?
Most concerning to me is how seriously we, as a society, take this virus and the recommendations to slow its spread to allow health care workers precious time to deal with the growing number of cases.
Unfortunately, where 9/11 took some days and weeks to become politicized and for that “kumbaya” feeling to fade away, this pandemic has been politicized since its earliest moments.
After Sept. 11, Americans did not tolerate joking about terrorism in public (and still don’t). We called it out. We applauded when disrupters were kicked off of planes or out of airports.
Today, however, some Americans consider ignoring the virus warnings as “just another valid opinion.” And they are not being called out.
It is past time to take this virus seriously.
This is the biggest story of our lives. It will be a long time for our country, for the world, to recover from this. Recover our health. Recover our economy. Recover our connection to our fellow humans.
And, unlike 9/11, we really don’t know when this will be over. It’s not a natural disaster that roars loudly and disappears just as quickly. It is much more insidious, preying on the very nature of what it means to be human: friendly, independent, proud and helpful.
The best of us will be on display only when we put the well being of others above our own, and do everything we can to stop the spread.
Or, to put it another way: To stand united, we must be divided.
A new newsroom, and newspaper
The outbreak has forced us at the Tribune to challenge our assumptions as journalists.
When there is a disaster, reporters and editors tend to congregate in newsrooms ready to work.
In this crisis, we have had to force ourselves, like you, to practice social distancing. More than half of our newsroom is now working primarily from our homes. We are meeting and planning by email, phone, texts and Google Hangouts.
Moving away from the office during a news event goes against our instincts.
Things we take for granted must be reconsidered.
There are fewer obituaries in the paper, as funerals are delayed. There is no court news, as the courthouse computers and files are inaccessible by the public. Our “Happenings” section is … not. Sports offers no late-game heroics that push our deadlines.
Here is one we haven't had to deal with: The Toronto Star has been publishing a note at the top of its horoscopes column, alerting readers that the predictions were written before they virus outbreak, and may contain advice that is contrary to social distancing and self-quarantining.
What hasn't changed? Our team's willingness to work long hours, ask hard questions, make difficult calls and pour their hearts and talents into these stories. All in the service of our community.
We aim to continue doing that work, no matter what comes next.
Contact Detroit Lakes Tribune Editor J.J. Perry at 218-844-1466, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @jjperry on Twitter.