Covering COVID from the garage

I remember when the coronavirus pandemic first hit home for me.

It was Thursday, March 12.

I recall it because Minden hockey player Hunter Hamilton was scheduled to be a Scotiabank skater before the Toronto Maple Leafs-Nashville Predators game at the Air Canada Centre that night. I was texting back-and-forth with his mom, Cheryl, as to whether the game was going to be played. It was cancelled. Having National Hockey League games shelved due to COVID-19 was the big wake-up call that we were dealing with something we had never dealt with before.

While sinking in on a personal level, we also had a newspaper to plan for March 19 and I knew it was going to be a COVID-19 edition. We swung into action and delivered the first comprehensive series of stories on the continuing health care saga. It is a job that has continued as we go into our 10th pandemic edition.

Pretty early on, we were declared an essential service. There was never any doubt that we would produce the news. We just had to do it differently. That meant we’ve been operating more like a daily, than a weekly, newspaper. We have prolifically published on Facebook and on our website. The newspapers have then provided more in-depth weekly coverage.

These days, we produce The Highlander from four different locations. Head of production Lyelca Rodrigues works from her home near Eagle Lake. I’m based out of my studio garage in Carnarvon. Journalist Joseph Quigley toils from his apartment in Haliburton and publisher Simon Payn from his home on Drag Lake. Our sales team works from home and in the field. Only our business manager, Cindy Campbell, can usually be found at The Highlander office.

Joseph and I research and write our stories from home. We spend a lot of time on the computer and on the phone. We hardly go out to cover anything anymore. For a while there, we wrote a lot about COVID-19. With the resumption of council meetings via Zoom, we’ve been able to expand our news coverage. Thankfully, there have been lots of human-interest stories, too.

One of our bigger challenges has been photography. We’ve been able to get some images, from a social distance, of those who have agreed to meet up. That’s why you are seeing so many file photos in our editions.

As we pass the Victoria Day long weekend, we are less sure about what we will fill the paper with each week. We know there will be continuing COVID-19, council, and people stories. However, with so many events being cancelled, there won’t be typical Highlander summer newspapers, filled with pages and pages of photos and write-ups from events. It is forcing us to be more creative.

Today, we are kicking off a newspaper serial, entitled Harp on the Water. It’s written by Hope Thompson, who lives in Algonquin Highlands. Thompson writes for theatre and television and has had plays produced in Toronto, Vancouver and Los Angeles. She recently wrote for the CBC’s Baroness Von Sketch and is currently working on a collection of crime stories. Her series will run over the next eight weeks. We’re also kicking off a series called The Armchair Traveller and are inviting readers to submit travel stories and photographs throughout the summer.

And, by all means, if you have story ideas, don’t be shy about reaching out to editor@thehighlander.ca or joseph@thehighlander.ca.

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