The Year of the Hero. That should be the new name for 2020.
Hospital workers, grocery-store employees and police officers are just some of the courageous front-line workers who are being hailed for their selfless efforts during the coronavirus crisis.
Media outlets around the world have been documenting the tireless efforts of front-liners everywhere.
At The Gazette, we turned the spotlight on local heroes with a 40-page special section last week. The section, titled “Rising To The Challenge,” was a heartwarming salute to the local women and men — from social workers and nursing-home staffers to public-health officials and mask-making volunteers — who are working diligently to help us through this period of unprecedented challenge.
Today, on World Press Freedom Day, I’d like to add journalists to the list of front-line workers who are going above and beyond during the pandemic.
Reporters and photographers at The Gazette and thousands of other newspapers and TV stations across the world are out in their communities every day. They’re doing the hard work of telling the stories of the COVID-19 crisis so the rest of us can stay informed from the safety of our homes and offices.
Reporting has always been challenging work. Even in normal times, journalists are tasked with going out into a world that’s sometimes harsh. They’re no strangers to tension-filled crime scenes, rancorous public meetings and the vagaries of Mother Nature.
In recent years, journalists have additionally had to contend with escalating belligerence from detractors who bombard them with calls of “fake news” and other smears.
Fortunately, journalists are a hardy bunch. Faced with a challenge, they rise to the occasion.
When this crisis first started to rear its head this winter, my Gazette colleagues were quick to recognize the magnitude of the unfolding story. As the world began to pull back and shut down, our journalists stepped up to report on the first illnesses. There were stories to be told, critical public-health information to be disseminated and, eventually, deaths to be reported.
Gazette reporters Pete DeMola and Stephen Williams, along with Business Editor John Cropley, have headed up our COVID team from the start. Our entire editorial staff is working on the COVID story, but these three have led the charge.
Pete, who normally handles our all-important Schenectady City Hall beat, has been dogged in his efforts to report on the virus’ spread in Schenectady County and beyond. He was one of the first local journalists to take it upon himself to start wearing a face mask — long before state directives were issued. He’s out in the community every day, telling the stories of COVID-19’s impact locally.
It hasn’t been easy. These are tough assignments.
Every day, Pete has encountered people who aren’t wearing face masks or, if they are, aren’t heeding social-distancing directives. Time and time again, he’s had to back away from interview subjects as they crowd closer against all medical advice. But time and time again, Pete has gotten the story and delivered his reports for Gazette readers.
Pete’s also encountered considerable resistance from some public officials. For weeks, he battled with Schenectady County officials to release additional information about the spread of the virus. Bit by bit, he’s been able to tease out critical information about infections and deaths, despite almost daily roadblocks at first.
The Gazette’s photo staff has also been on the front line of our COVID coverage. Staffers Marc Schultz, Peter Barber and Erica Miller have traveled from one end of the region to the other to document the daily tolls and triumphs of the crisis. They, too, have put themselves in harm’s way to capture this historical event. Their photos — taken while wearing face masks and from safe social distances — have told the story, often beautifully, of the crisis’ effect on the region. They show up every single day — to the pain and hardship, and to present it to the rest of us. They’re not looking away.
Other newsroom staffers have stepped up to do some excellent COVID-19 reporting, too, even when their normal beats had nothing to do with hard news.
Sportswriter Adam Shinder jumped out of his usual role and into the news fray to report on some of the humanity of what’s going on in the crisis. Recently he went to visit a soup kitchen to describe the work being done to feed the hungry. A few days later, Adam spent time with a local church pastor while she performed “drive-thru” prayers at the end of the church driveway. These are unprecedented times.
More recently, longtime Gazette staff writer Jeff Wilkin donned a handmade Baltimore Orioles face mask and gloves to cover a protest in Albany of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “New York State on Pause” closure of schools and nonessential businesses. It was a tense scene. Yet Jeff, a veteran of countless stories over his four decades in journalism, covered it with grace and objectivity. He shot Facebook Live video from the scene, gathered details and then headed to his makeshift home office to write a story for the following day’s front page.
All in a day’s work for a journalist in 2020.
Today I salute and thank my Gazette colleagues and all journalists who go to work every day with grit and tenacity, witnessing and conveying the beauty and the pain. They too are heroes.
Miles Reed is editor of The Daily Gazette. Email him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ReedGazette.