Pandemic baby

You do what you got to do in a pandemic

I did not have “start a kids section for my local newspaper” as a bucket list item. Or even on my five year plan.

But here we are.

The first week of March, when I still worked in an office, things seemed to happen very quickly. One day, people were suggesting I was overreacting to the news when I said we should cancel events. The very next day, I sat in the office listening to the exclamations of all the sports that had been canceled. I sit right near sports. And I like to yell things through the doorway, like “WHATS A SPORPS!?” Or mispronounce the name of the Hawkeye’s coach. Do I do it on purpose or because I just can’t say Ferentz? I may never know.

But that week. As sports were canceled, I could hear them every time.



One by one, everything fell.

Sports is a huge driver for our newspaper. We have some of the best sports reporters in Iowa and they are beloved. And now, there is no section. No sports.

I know I joke a lot about not liking sports. But that’s of course, mostly a joke. I run all the time. I participate in sports (willingly? sometimes) and I understand their value and potency and need. But also even if I didn’t this is my paper, this is my community, these are my friends.

We also don’t have our Community pages because there are no community events. We are trying to get creative — cover live streams and video feeds and the people trying to do something new. But it still means less on the page.

And less on the page means fewer ads. Fewer ads mean a loss of revenue. Even huge grocery store chains, who are one of the few making money right now are pulling ads.

We had to come up with something. “Kids page?” I said.

Turns out, our education reporter, Molly Duffy, had already come up with a plan for a kids page in early 2019. But layoffs and shifting priorities put it on the back burner. I called her. We dusted off the plan and had some meetings.

We launched it in less than a week.

I started at the newspaper in August. I’ve been slowly learning this system called Saxo that is both a clunky CMS and a portal for print. I mostly assumed I wouldn’t have to learn the print side. Wow. I WAS WRONG.

I had to learn the print side in two days. I had to do that plus home school my kids. Plus just waking up to the reality of the virus. Oh also I judged a newspaper column contest.

It’s actually not THAT hard to learn print. But I have to learn to think in page space (column inches) and work with an already overloaded design staff, who is amazing, but the last thing they need is me being like “HOW MANY WORDS CAN I FIT ON HERE CAN YOU DRAW ME A CAT?”

No one yelled at me.

I grew up on the internet. I am an internet writer. I think, I understand instinctively about traffic and social sharing and headlines and audience. But to think in terms of space on a page. To limit your world to that area?

There might be a lesson here about the worlds we are now creating in our limited spaces. But you know what, not everything needs to be a lesson or a metaphor. We are just trying to survive.

I hope this kids section is successful. I hope we don’t have to have layoffs. I hope I have a job. I hope you all have jobs. Are you okay? Will you let me know how you are doing?

Did I ever tell you I am writing an Audible book? I am. It’s supposed to be about my days as a homeschooled kid. Which feels weirdly prescient right now. I keep telling my kids stories about what it was like. They love them. We’ve been making fires in my fireplace and then they’ll ask me to tell them stories. They only want “non-fiction.” So I dig deep and tell them how my childhood was divided between the house and the creek behind it and how we made our own world in that creek. But the world of the house was the world of worry and adults. I tell them about my sister Becky’s magical bike. And the angel mom says she saw one time. I tell them about Jessie almost shooting my ear with a BB gun and falling off the roof into the holly bushes. Their favorite is the story of the time, my brother Zach and I snuck out of church by crawling through the Sunday school window.

And as I tell them these stories, it occurs to me, that this oral storytelling is what is so great about the Audible book project. And I’m excited to explore that and make something good.


Here are some things I’ve written. And also a book you should all pre-order.