“Well, what have we learned?”
It’s a question I have asked often in and out of our newsroom throughout the last quarter-century or so, usually about a subject that our paper is writing about in any of our sections, but particularly in news, and especially in investigative reporting.
The answer to that question is the difference between thinking we know something and knowing it. If we only think we know it, it doesn’t make the paper, or online or even the coffee shop.
If we do know something, because we’ve learned something, then we write it up, and put in The Gazette.
In the past year, we’ve all, in some way, had to answer the question “Well, what have we learned?”
We’ve all learned something as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the attendant restrictions placed on us all by government in the name of protection.
In most cases, we’ve learned a lot. About ourselves, our family, friends and coworkers. About the town we live in. About the state and the country.
I’m not going to belabor the point of it being one year into this mess. You all have plenty of media outlets that will give you the history of the past year from lockdowns to vaccinations.
Instead, I’m going to present some answers to the question in this week’s column’s headline. During the past year, this newspaper has been at the forefront of this crisis, and we have spoken to many local people. We learned a lot about what they have learned.
For starters, people will find it extremely difficult after this past year to take the service the local school district and its teachers and staff provide for granted. In addition to educating children and providing them with extracurricular activities, the public schools provided a “safe haven” for children so that parents could go to work each day. Which leads me to:
People learned they could work from home, even with the kids at home learning. No one would say it was close to an ideal situation, but it was serviceable and people learned to make the best of a bad situation. With some exceptions, however, most people realized that it was better when the kids went off to school and the parents went off to work. Again, no one’s going to take that situation for granted anymore.
A lot of federal money has either flowed or is about to flow into the town and the school district as a result of aid packages meant to offset the pandemic’s negative effects. Part of our job is to see how those funds have been or will be spent locally. Stay tuned.
Trust remains the best currency in a time of crisis. If people trust someone, then they will throw their support behind them. If people do not trust someone, they will not. No matter how hard people have tried, you can’t read people’s minds. They will do what they want to do, when they want to do it, especially if they are fueled with a combination of fear and misinformation. This situation is a universal one; it does not reside in a particular background of any kind. It’s human nature.
“Hope does not disappoint.” That’s the opening line of the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (5:5-11). It’s been a thought worth remembering in a year filled with great valleys and few great peaks. The hopeful person, the optimist, is strengthened by their hope, and having hope is in and of itself an asset. Hope’s value is that it helps one believe that a good outcome—in some way—will occur.
We need that thinking now, and in the future, as we move through these coming months. There will be more to learn, more discoveries, more defeats and victories. We’ll keep running the range of emotions. Sometimes the laughter will drown out the tears. Sometimes it will be the other way around—but the key is to learn from it all.
As we learn we will continue to grow.
One final note: This newspaper has continued to be published under the most adverse conditions, week after week, for the past year and nearly 23 years before it. What I’ve learned is that our staff’s commitment to our readers only grew exponentially during the pandemic. I have great respect, admiration and gratitude for all of them, as well as for our advertisers and readers. Having a newspaper to put out each week made this difficult year a bit more bearable, as we continued our quest to answer the question, “Well, what have we learned?”
Gabe Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.