Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works in Middletown has switched operations to help supply hand and surface sanitizer for EMS and hospital crews. York Daily Record
I didn’t think much of it at first. Another assignment at 11 a.m. Wednesday morning, nothing out of the ordinary, by any means.
I gave my editor a call, let him know I was heading into Middletown for an interview. It was the question that followed that made me second guess the idea.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
The story was important, neither of us was debating that. Rather, was the trip necessary?
It’s an odd conundrum journalists are facing right now. As I left my home in Emigsville, I received a few messages from a colleague asking that I pick up gloves, double-checking if I was certain I should go.
By the time I reached Interstate 83, I was certain I was having a mild panic attack: Should I go? Am I failing as a journalist if I don’t? Am I failing as a citizen, if I do?
Covering the coronavirus in America can be likened to an initial surge of adrenaline that comes with covering a war. By no means are we walking the bloodied streets of Sarajevo, but the anxiety is present.
After all, no matter what we tell ourselves, this is crisis journalism.
As the outbreak continues to grow, so does the impact. So do the stories that need to be told.
As a journalist, it is impossible to tune any of that out. It is even more difficult when the way we report — the way we live — has changed so significantly within two weeks.
That Wednesday, I visited Tattered Flag Brewery & Still Works in Middletown to report on how local distilleries are now making hand and surface sanitizer.
Tattered Flag is one of several distilleries that has pivoted its business model amidst an unprecedented halt in order to provide resources for first responders. It’s a noble cause and one has happened so quickly that the impact seems to be a paper cut on our psyches.
The distillery, like many restaurants, is trying to maintain a source of income through take-out service. They are using their equipment pro bono to provide for emergency and medical personnel.
The resources they need for emergency supplies are limited. The delivery times are now twice as long as they were before this outbreak hit.
While supplying sanitizer is virtuous, the team is doing so on donations only — meaning that even their honest call to action isn’t permanent.
It’s the harsh reality of this new world. It’s one I’ve been trying my best to cover within the business beat, and one that I still am unsure we are grasping fully.
Counting days, counting people
I live with a fellow reporter, a journalist for LNP, Lancaster Online. We live next door to one of my colleagues, Paul Kuehnel, a longtime photographer for the York Daily Record.
All three of us are out in the field covering this pandemic the best we can. All three of us, — I’m sure — are also tracking each other, counting how many potential persons we’ve come in contact with.
It’s a strange thing to think about each time I bathe my hands in sanitizer as I enter or exit my car, my house. I have to be aware that I may have come in contact with someone infected. I may get my roommate infected. I may get my neighbor infected. They may infect me.
Each time I go out I have to reset this imaginary clock back 10 days, tracking my body for symptoms daily.
Does this mean we have to report strictly from home? Away from the story? Looking at it from a window panel miles away from the action?
It doesn’t feel right. But it doesn’t feel like we have much of a choice either.
Frank Bodani, longtime Penn State sports reporter for YDR, shared a few experiences from this past week with me. He too has had difficulty adapting to this new world.
Phone interviews are not the same as in-person interviews, he said. How can we be storytellers and reporters when we need to stand 6-feet back from our sources?
Social distance doesn’t mean we’re not all connected
I recently spoke with a comic book shop owner on the phone. He broke down during our call.
His business — his livelihood — is in jeopardy, something he has been trying to bury as he manages to salvage any profit he can. My questions prodded at that and brought up sentiments and realities he said he hasn’t even discussed with his wife.
The candor he spoke with was relieving, but the reality of his words remained unnerving for both of us.
Comic books may seem trite for readers who are not fans. But here’s the thing — those shops don’t have a supplier anymore. Diamond Comics Distribution, their main distributor, has ceased deliveries. No more new product.
The longer this goes on. The longer these supply chains are disrupted, the worse this may get for small businesses everywhere.
This is all happening so fast, the scope of it all can be difficult to grasp. Even more so when we are stuck inside for large portions of our day.
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What makes a community?
The ecosystems we have come to know and love may very well change the longer this goes on. And those ecosystems are connected by every one of us. The small businesses, such as comic book shops, barbers and of course restaurants, that populate our Main Street corridors are all on life support.
This virus is especially damning to restaurants. Without foot traffic, many will likely need to close up shop. We’ve seen several already do so here in York County.
The take-out model offers some short-term relief. But ultimately, the only thing restaurants and other small businesses that remain open can rely on is loyalty.
Support your local eateries: York County restaurants are open during Coronavirus outbreak. Where to order delivery from
And that may not be enough.
Without restaurants decorating our business districts what happens to tourism? The downtown attraction for cities like York? The Americana blocks like Lititz? Without people walking outside, patronizing these businesses, what happens to a business district?
Without small businesses, what is a town’s identity?
The longer this goes on, the more evident the strain, the more apparent these everlasting changes are.
And it isn’t just commercial identities either.
Newspapers have been on the ropes for quite some time now. Advertising has been its main source of revenue, and yet without businesses around — where do the ads go?
We rely on subscribers more and more in this digital age, but it is those mom and pop shops in our communities that rely on the paper for advertising.
And this article isn’t intended to be a pity party for newspapers or journalists like myself.
I’m simply trying to make sense of it all and answer this question: Are the risks of going outside to report scarier than a world where we don’t have any businesses left to support?
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