Editor’s Column: Writing the news during a year of COVID-19

Editor Column

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

To think that we have lived with COVID-19 impacting our lives for over a year now still hasn’t hit me.

I’m sure most of us have seen the internet memes about how we’re still processing last March while this March has already started, but for me, it’s kind of true.

For a while, I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling that way while it seemed like most people were sick of sitting at home for endless hours, days, weeks and months. And yes, part of me feels that way, I miss all of the things I could do pre-pandemic, but deep down I haven’t felt trapped in a never ending quarantine. I think that’s because, personally, the pandemic hasn’t really changed my life all that much.

I don’t say that because I’ve ignored mask mandates or safer at home orders or quarantine guidelines, I say that because throughout this pandemic, I was a public-facing essential worker—my life couldn’t bend to those conditions. My essential work was to inform the community during an unprecedented, tumultuous time.

I remember the first story I wrote about COVID-19 in 2020, it was in early February, speaking with doctors following the first case of the virus in the state. I asked if this was going to spread, they said, positively, no. I asked about treatment, they were unsure. I asked if they were taking precautions to prepare for the worst, they said no. Looking back, it gives me chills to think that medical professionals I spoke with felt they had this under control just over a year ago, they had no reason to believe things would be the way they are now.

The next story I wrote was about a passenger on a quarantined cruise ship on the coast of California because of a COVID-19 outbreak amongst the staff . She spoke of how herself and family members were required to stay in their rooms aboard the ship, their meals were left in the hall outside their door—things that seemed dystopian to us at the time, but are commonplace just a year later. Public health officials I spoke to at the time, recommended hand-washing and staying home if you have symptoms.

The next major COVID related story I followed was the spring election, it was days and weeks of back and forth on whether there would be an election, and if there would be in-person voting. I covered city, town, village and county boards as they made contingency plans for keeping government moving if there wasn’t an election.

The decision was made—there was going to be an election—an election that landed our state on national news because of our choice to hold in-person voting.

The stories I wrote following that decision included how municipalities were going to keep voters safe, and going to polling stations on election day to speak with voters and get photos—at the time, eerie photos of people wearing masks and interacting behind glass dividers while practicing their civil rights.

After that, I lost track of the COVID-19 related stories I wrote, it was endless hours and days reporting on rising cases, the first death, the second death, too many deaths. I followed municipal governments as they weighed declaring a state of emergency, as they scrambled to practice open meetings via Zoom. I covered testings, I covered overworked health officials—pushed to their breaking point.

At one point, a corporate news media editor told me virus stories had become so oversaturated, it wasn’t news anymore.

And then George Floyd was murdered. It was the first time since March a story I wrote didn’t include the words COVID-19, COVID, coronavirus or virus. My essential position switched from informing the public on a deadly virus to informing the public about deadly force.

I witnessed and documented riots at the state Capitol, I saw statues come down, felt the tear gas, and witnessed boisterous pleas for our nation to do better go unanswered.

I was relieved to see a majority of Black Lives Matter protesters choosing to wear masks during my coverage.

Following the riots, life went back to COVID-19, cases continued to rise, deaths continued to rise, the endless mask debate continued.

Honestly, by the time we made it to the presidential election and Jan. 6 national insurrection, everything was a blur. We were in this “Groundhog Day” like cycle of virus, politics, violence, yet I continued to cover them as they happened.

Journalists always say news never sleeps, and it’s true. It doesn’t matter if we’re quarantined or not, the news has to go out and there is never going to be a shortage of news. My life was relatively unchanged, news happened, I masked up, wrote it into words and shared it with the community.

I worked from home when I could, but ultimately I was in public following the endless news wire, quarantine wasn’t an option for me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, I chose this profession because I am passionate about the need for an informed public and the documenting of history—I will choose to fight this virus a million times over to ensure the preservation of that.

In the midst of the last year, all of these things were stories to me, but looking back, I’m exhausted.

Now at the one year mark, the stories have turned to covering vaccine distribution and administration, and I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel as the pandemic wanes and the stories turn to grappling with the aftermath.