That's My Point

That's My Point, by M. Patricia Titus

First, let me admit that I’m a little tired this week.

It’s not uncommon when we have a hurricane or a nor’easter coming through the area that I spend 10, 12, 16, 22… hours straight on my computer, making updates to our website and social media accounts. When news rolls in that’s important to our community, I find it hard to wait to get it out to our readers, and when things are changing quickly, it’s not unusual that as soon as I make one update, another one comes in.

And the last week has been, in a lot of respects, like a major storm is looming just off the coast and everyone is frenziedly preparing for the worst. (OK — not quite everyone, but most of us…) As I finished up with updates last Friday and pondered whether I would get enough of a breather to have dinner with a friend, I knew it wasn’t likely.

Sure enough, as soon as I sat down to dinner, I checked my phone to see if any urgent emails had come in while I was driving, and there it was: Indian River School District schools (all the public schools in the state, actually) were all being closed for two weeks. As the mother of an IRSD student, this was already big news. Managing our website content turned dealing with that information into a huge, urgent, desperately needed public service.

So, while my friend ordered appetizers, I was jumping on the mobile interface of our brand new website, which is the other reason I’m a little tired this week.

The new site couldn’t have been completed at a better time, because it’s making providing information to our readers in a useful, functional and visually interesting way a lot easier, and it's enabling us to get stories right out on the website and on social media. This new site was built to handle breaking news and developing stories that interlace with one another to a tremendous degree. And coronavirus has certainly been a news event that fits into those categories.

So, along with the breaking news, I’ve been dealing for more than a week with the final tweaks and back-end work of getting the new site up and running, more than capably assisted by our in-house technical guru, Shaun Lambert. And by “assisted,” I mean Shaun did most of the work. Certainly, most of the hard work. And I spent a lot of hours fixing the small stuff, such as calendar events, often until well past my bedtime. As in wee hours of the morning past my bedtime. So I was already pretty tired going into Friday night.

And then my few planned hours of downtime turned into a rush to post yet another breaking news story. (Now, don’t worry too much about me. Once I got the story posted, I had a nice dinner and enjoyed some amazing classic rock music by one of the area’s best bands.)

I have to say, that evening was a bit like the intersection of St. Patrick’s Day and a hurricane party, and I went home pretty early after having sat off to the side of the action, a little leery of the crowd that we had initially thought might consist entirely of the bartender. I think half the people there were determined to get in some dancing before they were confined to their homes for who knows how long, and the other half weren’t concerned in the least about COVID-19 (there, Laura Walter — I’ve called it by its proper name).

That latter group, I know, has some representatives among our readers. And I get it. I really do. Just like you get inured to the hurricane watches that often turn out to be no big deal, you’ve been worn out by all the flu alerts and societal pressure to be responsible and get your flu shot, and you figure coronavirus is just basically the flu, right?

Well, ignoring that the flu can kill (and did in tremendous numbers early in the last century, when it, too, was a pandemic), this coronavirus is not the flu. It’s less dangerous in a few ways and tremendously more dangerous in others. And, bottom line, we’ve got to convey that information to you, utilizing all the experts, scientists and officials who specialize in these areas that we can get on record. We don’t make this stuff up, folks. Really. We don’t. I’ve got better things to do than inventing a hoax or inflating the danger of a virus. Better things like sleep.

But I willingly give up a little sleep (OK— this week it was a lot of sleep) so we can make sure you’ve got the information you need to make informed decisions about your health, your work and your family’s safety. No information makes for bad decisions. Bad information makes for horrible decisions. And if you’d rather believe the wrong information than listen to the experts… Well, you’re not going to get that from the Coastal Point.

So, having said all of that... As I was scanning social media this week for more breaking information, I ran across a post I’d made on Facebook a year ago this weekend. It was commentary on a story about the closure of small, independent newspapers, kind of like ours. But, unlike some small publications, we’ve managed to grow, thanks largely to the support of our community and our readers. And just a little because we do our best to be accurate, timely and involved in our community.

In light of some of the commentary we had on our coronavirus posts this week, re-reading what I’d written a year ago hit home. So, I’d like to share that with you here:

We’re one of these exceptions — a newspaper still growing after 15 years. We were an exception when I attended a conference 14 years ago and the speaker polled the attendees on whose papers had grown in the prior few years. I still firmly believe that our investment in our local community — time, energy, money, emotional — is the reason.

But don’t think for a moment that we’re not scrambling to make it work, with additional projects; investments in websites, apps and social media; creative solutions to competition for advertising dollars; and an award-winning staff whose passion is to do this job for our community and do it well. That investment is largely returned by our community, who recognize the job we do and the value of retaining an independently-owned newspaper in the area.

We can expect this to get harder as more of people’s lives shift online, but it’s an adjustment I’ve been trying to prepare for — for 15 years. I firmly believe that our devotion to this community and its people is key in that, in building loyalty that will follow us online and into the years ahead, and sustain the resources we must have in order to provide this kind of service to the community.

I hope the community continues to recognize that and will support us with their advertising dollars, their desire to help us inform others, and especially with their continued readership, because they’re the reason we do this job — not just sitting at a desk answering phones or working on a computer, but sitting in council meetings for hours, spending nights at games instead of at home, taking our toddlers out with us to survey storm damage, digging our cars out of feet of snow so we can report the news while everyone else has been banned from the roadways, and yes, even just getting up at 3 or 4 in the morning to ensure we’re on target for our deadline...

Community newspapers have long been the lifeblood of this country, and when you see people online or on TV (or even at the local coffee spot) disparaging real journalists as biased, dishonest, “enemies of the people,” it’s a good time to remember (and maybe remind them) that journalists report on their kids’ soccer scores, their daughter’s engagement, their neighbor’s unique hobby, their new business, their town’s history — and its future, by sitting in all those council meetings or stopping by the town manager’s office to learn about the latest proposal.

No one else does these things — we’ve seen it in the empty meeting rooms and the complaints (after the fact) that people would have spoken out against (or for) something if only they’d known about it. (Usually, it’s been reported by your local community newspaper, but people don’t always read... imagine how many copies we’d publish if everyone did!)

But it’s literally our job to do this stuff. And, moreover, it’s our passion — to keep our community informed, not just about the votes and the big projects, but about those touchdowns, the ribbon-cuttings, the event you wouldn’t hear about on Facebook until after the fact. We rely on our community to help us do this job — not just with their advertising choices, but with their news tips, their sharing an interesting story and, most of all, by following us on social media, visiting our website regularly, using our app and especially by still picking up that print edition every week, and encouraging others to do the same. We’re all in this together. That’s what community newspapers are all about.

And, as I said this week, a year later, after now 16 years doing this job with these people, I think this is a timely reminder that this isn’t a job you do for money (though that helps, even though journalists don’t make much in the scheme of things). It’s a calling that drives you to go above and beyond, because you feel responsible to your readers and your community.

I see that every day in our office, in the stories our reporters submit and the photos our photographers go out of their way to get, in the efforts our publisher makes for our community and in the willingness of each of our staff members to go above and beyond for our readers, our clients and all the people we meet.

We’re not telling you to be careful about coronavirus because the hype pays the bills around here. We’re telling you that because informing people is what journalists are supposed to do. And we’re telling you that because we care about this community, and that means all of you. Take care out there, folks. We’ll get through this together.