In past years, when I was a full-time writer, rather than a manager, my days largely involved pounding the pavement, going to meetings, interviewing people at their homes and businesses and pursuing other avenues of on-the-ground reporting. But as I took on more non-writing responsibilities, I spent more time at my computer.
Then, of course, came COVID-19. The initial shutdown of March and April thrust our industry, like every other, into foreign territory, forcing us to work remotely and with less material to write about. When businesses are closed and people are hunkered down at home, non-virus story ideas are hard to come by.
As society and the economy opened up, journalists, again like everybody else, never really hit their pre-pandemic stride. For obvious reasons, I scheduled far more interviews over the phone than face to face, while in my personal life I haven’t dined in a restaurant, been to a bar or gym or attended a big event since March. The result is that I’ve spent entirely too much time thinking about my posture in my creaky desk chair.
In October and November, however, either by design or chance, quite a few of my stories required, or at least encouraged, reporting outside of the office. It quickly became clear how much I missed it. One attractive feature of journalism is the opportunity to meet and see people and places I otherwise wouldn’t.
I’m not wildly social, and even less so as a father of two young children, so my understanding of the community, and relationship with it, relies greatly on my job. Cutting out direct connections has altered that relationship, exacerbated by a year in which political and societal turmoil has rendered social media increasingly nasty, offering a skewed version of the community.
All of which is to say my recent reporting endeavors have been vitally uplifting, reaffirming something about the world I had lost touch with due to prolonged isolation.
A brief sampling: visiting Gretchen Rittberg at her home in Bigfork to discuss her late mother’s unpublished writing; meeting up with a father and son who represent two of three generations to shoot their first deer with an 1898 Spanish American War-era rifle; and watching in person as a 3-year-old boy, surrounded by his doctors, played and laughed in his hospital room following a terrifying series of medical treatments for a rare syndrome.
Everybody was happy, including me.
Whether for the Beacon or for our quarterly magazine Flathead Living, those outings and others gave me a far more meaningful glimpse into my community than Facebook ever could. It reminded me why I live where I live and why I do what I do. I look forward to many more of those experiences in the coming year, through work and socially. A vaccine can’t come soon enough, so we can begin gathering once again and reconnecting with community.
This column was adapted from the Editor’s Note in the upcoming winter edition of Flathead Living, the Beacon’s quarterly magazine.
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