After about two months of the stay-home orders and lockdowns, I decided to review what’s changed as we put together The Current each week.
It’s gotten easier and harder. The Philipstown Town Board and the Nelsonville Village Board have adopted Zoom teleconferencing for their meetings and workshops. The Putnam County Legislature uses audio connections for its monthly meeting and committee sessions. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney holds telephone and Facebook town halls, as does Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, and local officials and others use teleconferencing and video for periodic updates.
Advantages: I don’t have to leave my desk at home to attend a meeting. No more driving in the dark 20 miles to Carmel or down the road 5 miles to the Philipstown Recreation Center; no more walking up the hill to Nelsonville Village Hall or Philipstown Town Hall (if it reopens before the lockdown ends).
Disadvantages: It’s more difficult, or time-consuming, or both, to ask questions of elected officials. Informal personal interaction is more limited and, after a meeting ends, I can’t catch up to someone in the hallway or parking lot to ask a question or get clarification on some point that struck me only after the meeting had ended and it seeped into my mind more thoroughly. I have to follow up by an email or phone call, probably the next day, so I’m not disturbing someone at a late hour. Moreover, I don’t get that exercise racing up the hill.
Then, too, because public officials and audience members at Zoomed meetings can see me just as I can see them, I’ve got to make sure that I look presentable, that my home office is not a mess and that my parrots have been evicted from the room, lest they decide to join in with raucous exuberance.
Because everyone is hunkered down, like journalists elsewhere I have to chase around more — from a distance — to come up with articles.
Just as town boards and county government, plus the U.S. House of Representatives, have suspended many sessions, the courts, at all levels, have mostly shut down. From local to federal jurisdictions, legal cases I was tracking and writing about hang in abeyance.
Likewise, the advisory boards that do much of the work of local government — planning, resolving zoning questions, reviewing conservation issues and so on — have curtailed their activities, at least until more teleconferencing options become available.
All this means journalists often put in longer hours. That has financial repercussions when you’re paid by the story, as most freelancers are.
A few reporters copy edit The Current before it goes to press. This process, too, has become both easier, in a sense, and more difficult, in another.
In the pre-pandemic days, we gathered every Thursday afternoon around the conference table in The Current office on Main Street in Cold Spring, using pencil on page print-outs to correct typos, factual errors, and garbled sentences. Admittedly, I frequently found this method cumbersome and rather archaic, since every other news organization for which I’ve toiled relied on making changes to copy on a computer screen.
Now, The Current team has been forced to complete much of the copy editing electronically. We work from our homes and Editor Chip Rowe and Layout Designer Pierce Strudler sit 6 feet apart at the office and pull everything together.
In many ways, it’s simpler and faster: I can go from one article to another without pause, copy editing each, marking it as edited by me, and putting it back into our shared digital cloud folder. Two colleagues do the same. The challenges come when one or more of us is simultaneously editing the same story, or if questions arise. We can’t just shove a print-out down the table and say: “Does this sentence make sense?” Or, “I don’t understand your change.”
It takes messaging back and forth to resolve the uncertainties and fill the holes and, again, all that takes time — especially if internet systems conk out (as mine does occasionally) or operate at a snail’s pace. Frustrations ensue.
Furthermore, when you work remotely, you can’t laugh and talk and swill coffee or eat home-baked cookies or candy from The Country Goose. So that interaction is lost, too … one more example of the collateral damage from COVID-19.