Retrieved from Rev.com
When COVID-19 finally manifested in Putnam County back in March, we all perhaps underestimated just how things would change when it came to just covering our beats.
Prior to the first local case being confirmed, our school systems and municipalities were trying to figure out how to deal with the unknown. This became an hourly -- then daily -- progression of cancellations and scrambling. Governor Holcomb issued the stay-at-home order, and students went to e-learning in the wake of schools closing.
Normalcy had seemed to go by the wayside. The Banner Graphic was designated as an essential business and free to attend meetings. The concern, though, was how school and government officials were to be transparent given the restrictions on gatherings.
As Jared recently posed to readers: What if you couldn't make that 7 p.m. meeting on Thursday, but still wanted to know where the Greencastle City Council stood on a street closure? How could community members engage in the democratic process?
Through this pandemic, we have seen the wide embrace of Zoom and Google Meet, as well as the use of YouTube and Facebook Live, to try and promote that transparency.
The Cloverdale Town Council was ahead of the curve, as the town office there began recording and posting videos of their meetings in January. The South Putnam School Board started doing the same in early April. In the same vein, The Putnam County Public Library's board of trustees have met remotely so they could socially distance.
Though I concur that public access has moved forward because of this, I think it begs consideration about the part we continue to play in the community as your newspaper.
How necessary are we in going and covering these meetings if they might be broadcast live on YouTube or Facebook anyway? Everyone should know what's going on, right?
We have to consider that some will not have this access. This is a crucial problem for rural areas, especially in places like Russellville, Fillmore and Roachdale. Their local governments might not have the capability to live-stream meetings in the first place. The expansion of broadband to these parts of the county becomes a worthwhile effort.
As journalists, we are still duty-bound to be there as watchdogs. We can go beyond the meetings themselves and lay out the context as to "why," as well as provide other perspectives whenever possible. We are there so we can continue to tell it like was.
I recognize the irony that this post might only be shared on Facebook and LinkedIn. However, the point is that getting out and maintaining those positive relationships with our neighbors and leaders makes what we do meaningful. It has become more critical. Whether in print or online, our readers will continue to be civically engaged.
I commend our churches for utilizing this remote technology for their congregations, as well as our schools which went above e-learning to provide food for students and their families. That same kind of public trust predicates our need to be that presence.
I don't think Zoom can impede this commitment on my, Jared's or Eric's part. People want to read that synopsis of the recent council or school board meeting in the actual paper. They can read about what matters to the movers and shakers, and maybe to their community at large. I see this as an intrinsic value behind the Banner Graphic.
I am thankful that I have been able to keep to my beat. As the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. It's what #SmallTownPR has to be about.