The manager who oversees our photo and video teams tackled a new role this year: international logistics chief. Looking for face masks to protect our staff from the coronavirus, he worked with a vendor in China and placed multiple orders for our journalists, warehouse workers and newspaper carriers.
As he stepped into the unknown, he wasn’t alone.
A metro reporter — already reassigned to the pandemic from her usual beat on the Eastside — used her “spare” time to raise money for laid-off and furloughed journalists around the country, distributing more than $100,000 (and counting) against an initial goal of $60,000.
Reporters, stuck at home, grappled with Zoom interviews. Photographers devised creative ways to make photos safely for themselves and their subjects, using windows, mirrors or just plain distance to get the picture. Others donned full PPE to chronicle the strains of COVID-19 inside hospitals. And they found ways to navigate amid hostility and even violence while covering protests.
Tech troubleshooters were dispatched on short notice to our South Lake Union office, sometimes near midnight, when an editor’s or page designer’s remote connection failed on deadline.
After a particularly hard week, one manager had doughnuts delivered to the homes of her crew.
I could go on. Suffice to say, 2020 was a year of constant adaptation — for us, just as for you.
There were plenty of low points.
Fear, exhaustion and sadness overcame many of us as we chronicled too much sickness and death. The unrelenting news pace left us stressed, and the isolation of working from home often left us coping alone. In the second half of the year, we became a frequent target of attacks that reflected political polarization around our region and the country. Many of those were verbal, but some of our journalists were punched, pelted with rocks and chased down the street while trying to do their jobs.
That’s not to say it was all bad.
We won a Pulitzer Prize in May for our coverage of Boeing’s problems with the 737 MAX, and though we couldn’t celebrate in person together, we had a pretty good Zoom bash. We also scored two meaningful legal victories: one opposing a police subpoena for unpublished protest photos, and one defending against a meritless defamation suit.
And we committed to covering the real purpose and meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for police accountability, while continuing an internal examination of our own biases and blind spots — work that began before this year and will continue long after.
Despite our exhaustion by early November, we pulled off fully remote coverage of an historic election without any glitches or missed deadlines. This was a high-wire act that morphed into a marathon when Election Day became Election Week, complete with round-the-clock coverage until a winner was declared.
Best of all, we heard from you — a whole lot of you — that we helped you navigate a historically challenging year. In my 35-year career I’ve never seen anything like the outpouring of support and appreciation we received this year from readers.
A typical example, which came in an email to me midyear:
“Your journalistic efforts on behalf of the community we all share is deeply appreciated. I am a grateful subscriber and also, a member of a ‘vulnerable group.’ [Your] complete, calm and science-based reporting is literally saving my life and the lives of everyone I love. Thank you, your journalists, production and printing staffs, your delivery staff and your housekeeping/janitorial staffs. You … exemplify the best of Seattle.”
I’ve been asked how I feel about the year we just lived through, and when I first got the question it took me some time to sort through my many emotions.
By now I know: The most significant and lasting, for me, is the feeling that this year — as hard as it’s been — has also been rewarding and revealing. The power of journalism to inform, protect, soothe and entertain is a great one indeed. We feel more than ever the impact of our work for communities in crisis, and we cherish the trust of our readers just as deeply as we bear the responsibility to serve them.
While I wouldn’t want to repeat a year like 2020, and I acknowledge this might sound like a weird thing to say, I’m grateful for the window it’s given me into that power, trust and responsibility — along with the resilience of the journalists I lead, and the resilience of the people for whom we do this work.