Local journalism is more important than ever. You told us 600 times

Coronavirus pushes journalists to report beyond 'what's happening,' during a pandemic that has us all searching for answers.

Empty chairs and desks inside Crosscut's newsroom

The Crosscut newsroom lies empty on March 9, as staffers were asked to stay away from the office due to CDC recommendations to social distance in response to COVID-19. "Stopped by the Crosscut newsroom to grab a lens," staff photojournalist Matt M. McKnight wrote, "Usually, Mondays are bustling with journalists in this space. Today, most everyone is working remote." (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Journalists do this work because they want to make a difference. Every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we get an opportunity to help people see the world more clearly.

The coronavirus crisis eclipses every other story I’ve worked on in this way.

The public seems to have an almost desperate need for information, guidance and clarity. Journalism has become essential again. To separate fact from fiction. To explain what government orders, like Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home rules, will mean to you. To give everyone ideas of how to stay connected to our communities when we can’t even go out to dinner or a movie.

Frankly, after having endured years of diminishing respect and appreciation for the work journalists do, being needed feels pretty great.

The reporters, editors, photojournalists and producers at Crosscut were aware long before the coronavirus that people are looking for more from journalism. They will always need to know what’s happening in the world, but they hunger for the meaning behind the news.

Why should I care? What does this mean to me, my friends and my family? Those are everyone’s questions.

When we started hearing rumors that the governor would soon order Washingtonians to stay home, the Crosscut team brainstormed how to respond. We decided to forgo the news story and jump right to the answer to this question: What does Washington’s new “stay-at-home” order mean for you?

So many people were interested in the answer to that question that soon after we posted the story, the Crosscut website crashed. Since then, more than 150,000 people have clicked on that list of questions and answers. We updated the story all week in response to more than 600 questions you, our readers, have sent in through Northwest Wonders, the new way we talk with our audience and write stories that give you what you need.

Many of your questions were helpful, some were fascinating and a few were truly heart-wrenching. And they keep coming by the dozens. We can’t answer them all, but we’re trying our best to answer many through the original story and with future reports diving deep into issues like outdoor recreation, child custody, moving and working.

Some questions we won’t be able to answer because they are so specific to your individual situations, but we have something new in the works that will respond to some of those.

A question came in late yesterday that really moved me, because I know both the correct answer according to the official statements, and what I think our governor would say if I called to ask his opinion. (I hope he will forgive me for taking this one myself.)

Ellen, a registered nurse, wrote to ask if a dog walker can walk her dog while she’s at the hospital. The official answer, according to the “essential workers” document the governor’s office put out is: no, dog workers are not considered essential.

But I think the governor would say, if Ellen or I called him, “Of course your dog walker can walk your pet while you’re at the hospital saving lives.” Child care is considered essential, for the children of essential workers, like Ellen. If your dog needs to be cared for while you are doing this important work, then it qualifies as well.

Then he would add: We all have to do what we can to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Ellen is doing her part by tending to the sick. The rest of us need to do our part by staying home.

That’s what I’m doing. Until we run out of toilet paper. Which is going to be soon. We’re down to four rolls.

This story originally appeared in Crosscut's Weekly newsletter. Not yet subscribed? Get signed up, below, or head here to learn more about our newsletters.

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