Indiana County courthouse
Indiana County courthouse
The coronavirus epidemic is upending daily life across Pennsylvania and the world. For many, there’s a growing need for news about the virus and how public officials, businesses and community groups are responding.
As a result, the role of media – local journalism in particular – is made even more important.
To get a sense for how news organizations across Pennsylvania are responding to the outbreak, PA Post is reaching out to newsroom leaders.
Our first conversation is with Eric Ebeling, the executive editor of The Indiana Gazette, a 15,000-circulation, locally owned daily.
The Q&A below has been edited lightly for clarity:
PA Post: How is your newsroom doing?
Ebeling: It’s been a challenge, no doubt about it, to keep working with very finite resources. However, overall, morale is pretty good – I’m very proud of the team and this transition has not been nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I give all credit to my staff for showing up through thick and thin and for producing what I consider to be their best work yet to keep the community informed. It’s a lot like triage, when prioritizing news coverage and understanding what we can and cannot get to.
How has this changed your news coverage?
You have to pivot – you have to do something different, there’s no doubt. We shrunk the size of our Sports section and expanded puzzle sections, and are now featuring landmark photos from across the region that have been converted to coloring pages for children.
Have you/your employees been “out and about” for news coverage purposes?
The Indiana Gazette has been able to allow employees to work remotely as much as possible – for some critical operations, a rotation is in place.
Has your company experienced furloughs?
Unfortunately, there has been some staff reductions – many furloughs in a hope to bring people back.
What has the response from your community been to the COVID-19 pandemic?
I would say it started out as a slow burn, likely not isolated to Indiana county, but based on guidance in the earlier months, residents seemed to be downplaying the situation, some comparing it a common cold. At some point, it got real. Now, most people have masks on and are staying home per the mandate from Gov. Tom Wolf.
The community has really come together, and the first response was to give back, even with a huge technology divide between affluent and rural parts of the county. Indiana County is a poor county on the main – many residents struggle to obtain internet access. Many people are rallying together to ensure the food bank has food; we almost lost our Meals on Wheels program because most of the drivers were elderly and understandably halted deliveries. A grassroots movement full of younger people developed to keep that program going and there was never any gap in meal deliveries.
What has the response from your community been to your news coverage?
We’ve received great feedback from the community; what The Indiana Gazette is doing is important and residents have been expressing gratitude and appreciation for critical knowledge. Subscribers have appreciated enhancements for kids during this time.
What do you do to manage the stress personally and the stress of your team?
Personally, I need to keep headspace about it, with so many moving parts and limited resources, it can be a challenge. I’m fortunate to have a veteran staff that rises to challenges time and time again I keep reminding myself and team that we are all in this together. I am on the lookout for signs of stress and tension; The Indiana Gazette has resources available for mental health.
I am not seeing anyone shrinking away from what we took on as our duty to keep the public informed about information that is critical to their lives – that’s the bottom line. That’s why I wake up every day.
Interview conducted by Kate Landis.