Q&A with Alex Hayes, managing editor at The Gettysburg Times

How Pa. news organizations are handling the COVID-19 pandemic

PA Post spoke with Alex Hayes, the managing editor of The Gettysburg Times, about how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting his paper and community.

The Q&A below has been edited lightly for clarity:

PA Post: How is your newsroom doing? 

Hayes: The first week that everything started breaking with colleges closing, we were constantly updating stories. Learning everything that is happening and understanding how these changes will impact our community is certainly a challenge.  That’s not something that usually happens, especially in a small town.

Now that things have settled into a somewhat new normal, we’re a little more comfortable and a lot less stressed than we were in the beginning of this.  Our staff has really stepped up and I am thankful for everything they have been doing.

How has this changed your news coverage? 

It has completely shifted things.  We are one of the few newsrooms in south central Pa. that still covers open/public meetings on a regular basis, and for the first couple weeks that just wasn’t possible.  There was a lot of moving things around and constantly reacting to the rapid changes coming out of the state. In this business, you’re completely used to flying by the seat of your pants on most days, but this was totally different and not something you can really prepare for.

Have you and your team been able to work remotely? 

It’s a mix right now – many employees are working from home, however, there are some that are still coming into the office on a regular basis.  Because the layout [at the office] is so spread out, it’s easy to maintain social distancing.

What has the response from your community been to your news coverage? 

It’s been very positive – we’ve received many notes from around the region filled with appreciation for the work we are doing.  For many of our readers, waking up and reading The Gettysburg Times is part of their morning routine.  Our senior-citizen subscribers have been calling in for instructions on how to access the e-edition, which has been very humbling to see the value in which they place our product.

What has the response from your community been to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

This town has a way of pulling together that you don’t really see across the rest of the state.  Watching people help one another has been very heartwarming. Many residents are making masks, donating meals and starting local Facebook groups for to support various businesses within the community. A local gas station owner recently donated $3,000 in fuel to frontline health care workers.

How are you engaging the with community during these times? 

Facebook has been a huge way for us to stay connected within our region.  We recently launched virtual spring athlete profiles for this year’s seniors.  We invited athletes to submit their photo, a favorite memory, the number of years they’ve played [their sport] and what their future plans are.  We received a hugely positive response from the region.  For many high school athletes, walking across that field on senior night is a huge accomplishment and they are missing out on that moment.

What do you do to manage the stress personally and the stress of your team? 

Personally, my routine has been completely shaken up.  I usually watch daily Mass online every morning to focus on something besides the news.  I have also been trying to exercise as much as possible when I’m working from home.

For my team, I have been constantly reminding them that we are a smaller staff and because of this, we can’t chase every single story we would like to.  Even though a newsperson’s desire is to cover everything as much as possible, that ultimately leads to a burnout.  I’ve encouraged everyone to figure out what schedule works best for them personally, and we’ve been able to come together as a team on that front.  Communicating with other departments when working remotely can be frustrating, but I try to always remind them that we are in this together.

Interview conducted by Kate Landis.

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