In U.S. epicenter for COVID-19, Seattle Times empties its newsroom

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In the corner of the United States hit hardest by COVID-19, The Seattle Times newsroom is vacant.

“For the first time ever, every newsroom employee is working remotely from home, as are all company employees who are able to do so,” Times Executive Editor Michele Matassa Flores reported to readers Sunday, March 15.

And for those journalists who must leave their homes to do their jobs, the newspaper is taking extra precautions, she said.

“We’ve told all Times employees, including our reporters, photographers and video journalists, to avoid areas where someone has tested positive for COVID-19, and we’ve shared public health guidelines such as keeping a distance of six feet or more from people whenever possible,” she wrote.

The newspaper is not providing facemasks, heeding health officials’ advice against their use for healthy people. “But we have provided hand sanitizer and have bought special protective gear for those who need it to report from inside hospitals or other high-risk places,” Flores wrote.

“For our operations and circulation staff, as well as our carriers — who don’t have the option of working from home — we are taking every step we can to safeguard their health,” she added.

Flores said that in her 35 years as a journalist — 27 of them at the Times — she has “never felt so keenly the importance of local journalism to our community.”

The newspaper is delivering news and information at a “breakneck pace,” she added, holding public officials accountable with tough questions, while also describing the challenges they face.

Much of the executive editor’s column was taken up thanking readers and the Seattle community at large for its support.

“Our staff is fueled by your support,” she wrote. “The kind notes, calls and social media messages we are receiving each day have kept us going at moments when we’ve felt exhausted, worried or discouraged.”

That support extends beyond the readership apparent from Times website traffic that has averaged triple the normal volume: “Despite the fact that we’ve made our coronavirus stories free as a public service, this coverage has drawn new subscribers at record levels.”

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