As COVID-19 Continues to Impact the Newspaper Industry Five Tribune Newsrooms going Fully Remote

Last week I noted that many journalists are working remotely from bookcase filled mini newsrooms as a result of COVID-19.

For some print journalists, those remote at home locations will turn into their permanent bureaus as some newspapers look to jettison their brick and mortar holdings in favor of an all remote workforce.

This week, Tribune Publishing announced that the physical offices of five newspapers it owns will be closed permanently in response to COVID-19, as well as a changing newspaper climate.

In making the announcement Tribune Publishing noted in a statement that, “Out of an abundance of caution we do not anticipate having employees that can work remotely coming back into the office for the remainder of the year and into 2021. With no clear path forward in terms of returning to work, and as the company evaluates its real estate needs in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close these offices.”

The five newspapers going fully remote are the Daily News in New York City, The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, the Orlando Sentinel in Orlando Florida, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and the Carroll County Times in Maryland. The papers join a growing list of newspapers that are rethinking their business model.

At a time when solid journalism is needed more than ever to bring facts to the masses and debunk false claims from people in power, more than 50 local newsrooms in the United States have closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the journalism think tank the Poynter Institute.

For years the Orlando Sentinel has had a remote newsroom at Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site. With the announcement that the Sentinel’s parent company is moving out of the main headquarters, one has to wonder whether a move out of remote bureaus like the one at KSC can be far behind.
Photo R. Anderson

Additionally, a UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media report discovered that, “since 2004, the United States has lost one-fourth, or 2100, of its newspapers.”

The study went on to state that these resulting “news deserts” mean that “more than 200 of the nation’s 3,143 counties and equivalents now have no newspaper and no alternative source of credible and comprehensive information on critical issues.”

Consider that fact as people try to figure out whether schools are safe enough to send their kids back to, or if the COVID-19 virus is getting corralled, or is still raging out of control.

Granted, there are still television networks and online news sources to fill some of the void, but for many people the local newspaper is their lifeblood for getting the news that matters to them.

The newspaper industry is far from the only business segment that is likely to consider the cost benefits of shedding their real estate holdings in favor of a remote workforce. However, the announcement that newsrooms would be closing permanently hit me particularly hard.

I grew up reading the Orlando Sentinel, and at one point thought I might work there. Although to be fair, I totally preferred reading Florida Today and the Tampa Tribune over the Orlando Sentinel.

Still, the Sentinel building was a beacon of First Amendment freedom whenever I would drive by it. It was empowering to think of all of the journalists inside those walls working hard night in, and night out, to deliver the truth.

When I was growing up my dream journalism job was to be on the space beat for Florida Today and work out of their press site at KSC. In 2015, the building that I had wanted to work at for so long no longer bore the newspaper’s name on it.
Photo R. Anderson

I even worked with, and competed against, many of the members of the Sentinel’s Sports Staff in my years covering high school and college athletics in and around Orlando.

So although I was never an employee of the Sentinel, I knew many people who were, and still are.

The mighty offset presses inside the Sentinel building went silent about three years ago. Like many papers, the Sentinel outsourced their printing to third parties as a way to cut costs. For the Sentinel, that meant a switch to a printing press about an hour away from downtown Orlando.

I know that the heart of a newsroom is made up of people, and not a building. However, it was the proximity of the people in that building that created the buzz and collaboration that makes journalism work.

When I was 16-years-old, I got my first professional newspaper job as a sports stringer for the Sanford Herald. For an aspiring journalist such as myself, the Herald newsroom was like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory without all of the chocolate and the singing.

Most of the reporters had already gone home by the time I got to the newsroom to write my stories, but the building was still alive with the sports staff, the photographer, and the team that ran the presses.

All these years later, I can still picture the cluttered desk of my first editor and the stacks of paper and other things that he had accumulated through the years surrounding it.

Looking around the cluttered desk I am sitting at while writing this, I suppose I subconsciously picked up that trait.

Aside from memories of cluttered desks stacked high with newspapers, I can still close my eyes and smell the unmistakable odor of newsprint and ink that filled the air. If the First Amendment was a cologne, to me it would smell like newsprint and ink.

The hands-on instruction I received from at the Herald proved invaluable to me in my writing career. Aside from learning the craft of writing on deadline, thanks to those Friday nights in the newsroom I also cannot listen to Edie Brickell & New Bohemians without thinking of the deep thought meditation quote taped on the wall above the editor’s computer.

Through my own years as an editor, from press box to press box, and newsroom to newsroom, I have sought to impart knowledge the same way to the reporters and other people I have managed as the way it was imparted to me all those years ago in a dusty and cramped newsroom in Sanford, Florida.

While I am all for the ability to file stories from the press box to avoid a long cross county drive back to the newsroom, there are definitely times when meeting face to face in a newsroom is critical to honing one’s craft.

It is hard to think of remote video calls having the same impact as actually seeing one’s colleagues face to face.

Of course, I realize that sounds somewhat hypocritical of me to say since I have been basically working remotely for years, and have loved every minute of it.

If the rate of newspaper closures continues at the current pace, it is quite possible that soon the only newspaper boxes one sees will be in Christmas villages and old movies about the glory days of print journalism.
Photo R. Anderson

Still, it is different to work from home and know there is an office to go to from time to time, versus having the office sold and knowing that working from home is the only option.

When I first heard the news of the Sentinel closing their offices, I did what any good reporter would do and researched whether any of the newsrooms I had worked in were still in the same buildings that they were when I worked there.

I already knew that one of the newsrooms I worked in was gone. That newspaper merged with another paper and closed. As a result, I was laid off since the merger made me a redundant employee.

The paper I worked at before the one that merged is still in their same building. That led me to dig deeper and explore the weekly newspapers I worked for at another community chain.

Much to my surprise the entire 20 newspaper chain went from having newsrooms in each of the communities it served, to having one office and half the staff. They also sold the building that had the only printing press in the chain and joined the outsourcing trend.

That brought me back to the Herald, where my professional newspaper career began. Like so many of the other papers I had worked for, the Herald also left their long time building for a smaller facility that did not have a printing press attached to it.

The results of my research revealed that only one of the six newsrooms I worked in is still in operation at the same location it was in when I worked there.

The consolidation of the newspaper industry, and the media in general, will have long lasting effects on the ability to deliver impactful stories that make a difference in communities both small and large.

I know I am biased towards the need for a free and independent press to perform the duty of the Fourth Estate and hold leaders accountable, while also printing the scores of the local youth sports leagues.

COVID-19 has taught us that the need for clear and honest journalism is needed now more than ever. Unfortunately, with so many local newsrooms counting on funding from local businesses to operate, many more newsrooms are likely to go dark in the weeks, months and years to come as advertising revenue shrinks.

I can take solace in the fact that although Tribune Publishing closed five newsrooms, they did not fully shutter the newspapers altogether. Unfortunately, not all newspapers will be as lucky.

COVID-19 did not create all of the funding issues for local print journalism, but it definitely didn’t help slow the spread of the demise of independent voices.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in honor of that quote on the wall in the first newsroom I worked in, I am off to ponder whether what I am is what I am, and whether you are what you are or what.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

SpaceX Makes History as the United States Enters a New Era in Human Spaceflight

Today, the Space Exploration Technologies Company, or SpaceX as it is more commonly known, made history by becoming the first private company to launch humans from American soil when a Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule attached to the pointy end on top launched NASA astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, from historic Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Earlier today historic Launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center was the site of America’s first flight of humans since July 8, 2011 when Space Shuttle Atlantis launched for the final time. Photo R. Anderson

Aside from being a giant leap for a private company, the launch marks the first time that any humans have launched from American soil since Space Shuttle Atlantis, which was piloted by Hurley, launched from Pad 39A for STS-135 on July 8, 2011, and landed on July 21, 2011.

In the nearly a decade since “wheels stop” on Atlantis was called out in the predawn hours, the only way to get humans to and from the International Space Station has been in a Soyuz capsule launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

It is sobering to think that the country that put the first humans on the lunar surface went almost 10 years without a means to launch people into space from Kennedy Space Center.

For the first time in nearly a decade Americans launched from Pad 39A which has hosted among other flights, the first trip to the moon as well as the final flight of the Space Shuttle Program.
Photo R. Anderson

The reasoning behind why the leader in space exploration lost its way and floundered, are best served in another column on another day. Today is a day to celebrate an achievement by SpaceX, and all of the dedicated people of the Commercial Crew Office at NASA. It is not a day to look back at a decade of starts, stops, and what ifs.

By all accounts, SpaceX was not supposed to be the company that returned humans into space from KSC, but they reached the finish line first by asking “why can’t we do it this way instead?,” versus sticking to what had always been done.

Space Shuttle Atlantis is now on display at the KSC Visitor’s Complex after being the last of the orbiters to see space. Doug Hurley was the pilot of that mission and commanded the Demo 2 mission which saw a return to human spaceflight launched from American soil.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2002, I had an opportunity to hear SpaceX founder Elon Musk speak about his vision for changing the way spaceflight was conducted shortly after he founded SpaceX.

Many of the people in the audience thought it was crazy to think that a company could start from scratch and succeed in the aerospace business. Musk proved that one could in fact succeed as a new kid on the block.

Following SpaceX, several other commercial space firms, like Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, and Virgin Galactic, founded by Sir Richard Branson, were formed.

The new frontier of space exploration led by companies like SpaceX, and Blue Origin, is likely to lead to even more innovations as private companies look at the most cost-effective way to safely fly.

While the basics of flight dynamics remain a constant, there is always wiggle room in the margins. For decades, the first stage of rockets were left to rust away in a watery grave in the Atlantic Ocean. However, the science fiction foretold process of landing rockets upright became reality when SpaceX showed that they could land their Falcon 9 first stages upright on land, and on a barge at sea, in order to reuse them as a cost savings measure. SpaceX also looked into ways to catch fairings with a ship equipped with a large net like a ballplayer chasing down a baseball in the outfield.

A Falcon 9 first stage makes its way to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in 2016. The ability to land the boosters and refurbish them near the launch site has led to a decrease in the number of cross country trips for the boosters as well as cost savings.
Photo R. Anderson

SpaceX has had many innovations, however, that is not to say that the road was not bumpy. There were several high-profile failures leading up to this launch, including the loss of the vehicle that had previously flown to the ISS as part of the Demo 1 mission.

In fact, Musk has embraced the failures as learning opportunities by often saying, “There’s a silly notion that failure’s not an option at NASA. Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

Congratulations to all of the people who worked so hard to make the Demo 2 launch a success.
Photo R. Anderson

Failures and losses of launch vehicles also occurred during the early development stages of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs. Additionally, the Apollo Program lost three astronauts during a tragic fire on the pad during a test run for the Apollo I mission.

The Space Shuttle Program saw the loss of 14 astronauts with the Challenger and Columbia incidents. Each of these cases show that no matter the decade, space travel remains difficult and filled with inherent risk.

These tragedies also underline the importance of learning lessons from each failure and taking steps to ensure that the same failures do not occur again.

Growing up in the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center, I saw the dangers of space travel firsthand when I witnessed the Space Shuttle Challenger explode from my vantage point on the elementary school recess field. The teachers quickly ushered us back inside when they realized that something had gone wrong, but years later, I can still close my eyes and picture what the sky looked like on that cold January morning.

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program includes partnerships with Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS. SpaceX became the first private company to launch people from American soil earlier today.
Photo R. Anderson

With the launch of Demo 2, a new era of government and private commercial partnership took one small step together. The Commercial Crew Program going to ISS is just the start of an ambitious interplanetary goal of returning to the moon, and eventually putting the first boot prints on the surface of Mars.

There are many challenges to go in order to reach those goals, and sadly history tells us that there may be tragedy as we stretch towards the unexplored horizons.

In a 1962 speech at Rice University, President John F. Kennedy, challenged America to go to the moon, “not because it was easy, but because it was hard.” Sadly, JFK was not alive to see his challenge fulfilled on July 20, 1969. However, over 50 years later, the center that bears his name is still pushing the envelope and reaching for the stars.

President John F. Kennedy inspired a generation to go to the moon nearly 60 years ago. NASA and their commercial partners have once again set their sights on the moon as well as Mars.
Photo R. Anderson

For five years, I have waited for the launch of this mission dubbed Demo 2. At times, I wondered whether this day would ever arrive after launch slip after launch slip was announced.

I had planned to be there for the launch in person cheering it on. The COVID-19 virus changed that plan, and I was forced to watch from home. Of course, that just meant that I had to cheer even louder, even though I have heard that in space no one can hear you scream.

Congratulations to all of the hardworking men and women who made the Demo 2 launch a success. I have seen firsthand the work in the trenches that went into getting to this point, so I know that the victory lap is both long overdue, and well deserved. Of course, the victory lap will be short, as there are more flights to get ready for.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go talk to somebody about their plans to occupy mars.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson