Q&A with Shane Fitzgerald, Atlantic sub-regional editor at Gannett

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

PA Post is continuing our conversations with news editors around Pennsylvania to gauge how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their newsrooms and communities.

shane fitzgerald

Image courtesy Fitzgerald

Shane Fitzgerald (Image courtesy Fitzgerald)

We spoke with Shane Fitzgerald, Atlantic Sub-Regional Executive Editor at Gannett overseeing the Bucks County Courier Times, The Intelligencer, Erie-Times News, Beaver County Times, Pocono Record, Somerset Daily American, Waynesboro Record Herald, Greencastle Echo Pilot, Tri-County Independent and the Ellwood City Ledger.

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

PA Post: How has the coronavirus epidemic changed your newsroom? 

Fitzgerald: Everybody is a coronavirus reporter right now; in some ways, the staff is more energized due to the public’s interest and impact this has had on our community.  We are starting to slowly cover different stories due to some readership fatigue.

We’re seeing phenomenal growth on our website traffic – both digital and print subscriptions have increased, which has been a huge encouragement to our staff that we are helping to keep the public informed. I’m tremendously proud of my team and the work we’re doing – we didn’t get into this business for the money and the riches, and I believe we are making a big difference.

What holes (if any) in coverage has the COVID-19 pandemic presented? 

I wouldn’t say that we have experienced any holes in coverage. We have enough staff around right now with a singular focus [to cover] the breaking news of the day.  Not to any fault of our own, but the very limited data coming out of nursing homes has been a huge frustration.  It’s been like pulling teeth to get important data. Right to Know Law requests are dismissed out of hand.

Have you been able to work remotely? 

Fortunately, yes. Most staff members have transitioned to working from home.  Some necessary operations are taking place in the office on a very limited basis.

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

Unlike anything I’ve seen in my career on a positive level – we’ve received many letters to the editor and notes from readers thanking us for what we are doing.  We recently had a photographer at a grocery store that identified herself as being with the paper and got a round of applause from shoppers. I’ve seen that the focus has become very little about political views and much more about the bigger issues at hand and that has been very rewarding.

What has the response from your community been to the pandemic itself?  

There hasn’t been a great deal of panic – people are taking the guidelines seriously and we’ve been able to help them understand why they are necessary.  I think being so close to New York City [Bucks County is a little over an hour train ride to NYC] has been a sobering alarm for residents on the eastern side of the state, though rural areas are showing some resistance.

Even after the protest in Harrisburg and western parts of Pennsylvania calling for action to open the economy, I’m not really seeing those opinions echoed in our community.

How are you engaging the with community during these times? 

We’ve been going live on Facebook to answer questions from readers which received a great response from the community.  We have been adding extra kids pages to our print products in addition to a full section dedicated to COVID-19 content with graphics explaining guidelines, symptoms, how to make your own face masks and other critical information needed to stay safe during this time.

What do you do to manage the stress personally/for your team? 

For my team, I make sure that I have regular contact with all 15 editors that report to me both in group calls and one-on-one.  I’m ensuring they are taking care of themselves and understand that we are in this as a team. We have a great network available and resources to band together.  We have Friday virtual happy hours to blow off some steam together – the only rule is that you cannot talk about work.

Personally, I’m making sure that I get out for a walk every day – rain or shine.  If I haven’t started my walk by 6 p.m., I drop everything and head out the door.  It’s been a huge stress reliever and keeps my head clear to be available for my team.

Interview conducted by Kate Landis.

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