What an abjectly and objectively awful year you’ve been, 2020. I don’t know that any of us are better for having met you, and I don’t know anyone who will be sad to see you go.
Normally on New Year’s Eve, I’d have a few friends over for dinner. There would be a pot of something warm and bottles of wine and a pitcher or three of cocktails. A few minutes before the ball drop in Times Square at midnight East Coast time, the television would be turned on, something sparkling would be poured, glasses would be raised and we’d welcome in the New Year.
And then I’d kick everyone out, even though it’s only 9pm in California, because it’s bedtime. This year, no friends, no party, just bedtime.
But I don’t need to recount for you, gentle readers, the ways in which 2020 was horrible. Some of you I know have been touched by Covid in ways that I haven’t, at least not yet and hopefully not ever. Three people I knew died from it, others have been sick with it and many of us got to find out exactly how far up our noses that swab goes.
Many people are out of work and many others are forced to go to work despite the dangers they face. One of my closest friends is a grocery worker at a chi-chi store in San Diego County, the type of place where “the help” picks up the groceries in the Bentley. She’s had to do a lot of nodding – and grimacing – through her mask as people have said terrible things to her, about the pandemic and about being “forced” to wear a mask.
As I wrote in March, “People are suffering. People will continue to suffer.”
Back at that same time, the Weekly was going through its own spasms, as the shutdown order that hammered our advertisers then came to hammer us. With events off and restaurants and bars closed, Weekly CEO Bradley Zeve and Publisher Erik Cushman made some quick and difficult decisions that included layoffs of one-third of the staff.
People would ask me how we were doing, and I’d say, “We’re surviving,” but in my head I was also thinking, “But I don’t think we’re going to be here by year-end.”
Here we are, though. We’ve survived, we’ve rehired some folks and we’ve added new staff as well. Staff writer Celia Jiménez, formerly of Univision, joined us in November. Newsletter editor and staff writer Tajha Chappellet-Lanier, who hails from Big Sur and spent five years as a tech journalist in D.C., started this month and photographer Joel Angel Juárez, coming from El Paso, starts in January. They are all new and very welcome additions to the team.
The office is not yet the same, though, and until the vaccine is widely available, it probably won’t be. A building that was so full of life and noise is now quiet.
Last week, a GOP “comms strategist” by the name of Liz Mair posited, in a since-deleted tweet, that one problem contributing to the demise of local media “is the very minimal output of some local reporters.
“When you file like one story a week, it’s hard to justify high five-figure or low six-figure salaries and you’re not doing much to attract readers. Too little content.” Other than being profoundly tone-deaf and inaccurate and completely out of touch with the realities of local journalism, I’m sure it was a fine tweet.
I bring up Mair’s tweet because in this reflective column – and aside from her ludicrous idea of how much local journalists make – I think about all of the hard work that goes into producing a paper and how much harder that work got during the pandemic. Pam Marino carried an especially heavy burden as our health care reporter. Marielle Argueza helped launch the Monterey County NOW newsletter and reimagined what a calendar and arts section should look like in the absence of in-person events. Asaf Shalev navigated complex stories and data in a way that made it look easy (and it’s not). And Sara Rubin, as editor, had to navigate the needs and wants of upper management with the needs and wants of a smaller-than-normal staff.
On Dec. 16, I received a sweet little bit of hate mail from someone using a fake name (isn’t that the way it always is) that read one sentence long: “You’re such a hero, aren’t you?”
Nope. Just a local journalist working with other fine local journalists.