For this alt-weekly editor covering the coronavirus, ‘the shenanigans are a way of holding on to whatever sanity is left.’

Your daily look at how local news is covering and coping with life during the coronavirus pandemic

April 3, 2020

Update: Shortly after this story ran, Enrique Limón told Poynter his position at the Salt Lake City Weekly was eliminated. 

A few weeks ago, the day before going to press, the editor of Salt Lake City Weekly scrapped his cover story. The world, after all, was changing fast.

The new cover story: The Quintessential Quarantine Super Fun Book.

“There’s no two ways about it: This f*****g sucks,” editor Enrique Limón wrote to readers. “Hoping to provide an iota of distraction while that bidet attachment arrives at your door, we decided to turn on a dime and put together this special issue filled with fun ways to kill time while self-quarantining.”

Since, Limón and a shrinking staff have covered the story of the coronavirus in Salt Lake City while also offering a bit of respite from it. There’s news about the state’s stay-at-home directive, an obit on a notable local COVID-19 death, and a too-real look at what’s going to happen to a bunch of us.

“The shenanigans are a way of holding on to whatever sanity is left,” Limón told me in a Facebook message. While some staffers are working remotely, “I’m the lone editorial staffer in the building, and I’d been without a staff writer for a few months before the pandemic kicked into high gear, so it’s been quite the load to bear.”

Last week, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that City Weekly’s local owner, John Saltas, had furloughed staff, including about half of the editorial team. In an April 1 piece in City Weekly, Saltas wrote, “Somehow, those who remain — less than a dozen persons where there once sat 40 — are working like thieves in the night…”

And a few graphs down:

Our revenues are nearly fully dependent on the health of the hospitality industry, clubs, cafes and events. To their credit (and because they are smart), some businesses still buy ads at a time when it is antithetical to do so. If I can implore anything right now to our readers, it would be that you all take a look at the pages that follow this one and make mental logs of those businesses. They need and deserve your full support when the virus veils are lifted. Remember them, because they have not forgotten you now. They are the reason you have held this free newspaper for 35 years.

Alt-weeklies around the country were the first to take a hit as the impact of the coronavirus wrecked the economy. But they’re not all disappearing.

“We are not simply rolling over in the face of the pandemic,” DigBoston executive editor and associate publisher Jason Pramas told the Association of Alternative News Media. “Being small, lean, and diversified overall has definite advantages in our current situation.”

I asked Limón what he wants people to know about alt-weeklies.

“Historically, we’ve been the voice for the disenfranchised in our respective communities and the champions of our local music and art scenes,” he said. “We’ve also been a finishing school of sorts for writers, editors and photographers who have gone on to soar in the industry. If you are lucky enough to live in a community that still has a scrappy alt, now’s the time to support it. Share a choice article on your social media channels, find a link to the e-edition and flip through it that way. Write a supportive note to the editor or a strong-worded one taking them to task — we love those, too.”

I’ll add one more thing that’s hard to replace: Alts watch, cover and challenge local legacy media regularly. Even watchdogs benefit from other watchdogs.

For this week’s issue, Limón wasn’t just the only editorial staffer left, he said, he was the only person in the building.

Here are a few other examples of how local newsrooms are covering the story of the coronavirus:

    • This story from WAFB in Baton Rouge about Ruth and Bill has so much heart. Get your tissues.
    • The Skagit Valley Herald in Mount Vernon, Washington told the story of the first county resident to test positive for COVID-19. “I haven’t hugged anybody since Feb. 22, and it’s a long time to not have any human contact.”
    • And from KCPQ in Seattle, this story is something we all need right now.

Help wanted:

One way Poynter wants to help right now is by sharing and amplifying all the resources we can. Please send me more. Here’s our master list. Below you’ll find the latest additions.

  • Listen to Dr. Seema Yasmin, a journalist and doctor, in this Pulitzer Center webinar at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 9.
  • Virginians are raising money for journalists who’ve been furloughed or had pay cuts. It’s already raised more than $6,000. It was created by Virginia journalists.
  • And check out this journalist furlough fund, which on Friday had raised $10,000. It’s organized by Paige Cornwell, a Seattle Times journalist.
  • Fourth Estate has relaunched JournSpark “hoping to foster and support at-risk news businesses during the crisis by providing free web hosting, online business support, and software, el news to work seamlessly from home without interruption.”

Bright spots:

  • It’s Friday.

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org and writes a weekly newsletter, Local Edition. Want to be part of the conversation? You can subscribe here. Kristen can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare.

This daily roundup of coverage by local news and resources for them is made possible with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation