Dr. Michael Mendoza, Monroe County public health commissioner on how to understand the data and what is happening in nursing homes and hospitals. Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
-- The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
D&C journalists have been WFH for four weeks now, coaxing information from sources while within earshot of a spouse or the kids or the dog or the cat, or maybe within earshot of all of the above.
Our intrepid photographers, wearing various forms of PPE, have been all about town illustrating Rochester's response to the coronavirus crisis.
Michael Kilian, executive editor, Democrat and Chronicle(Photo: File photo)
Our front-line editors and producers, the air-traffic controllers of our journalism, guide the stepped-up flow of news remotely from their kitchen tables, typing up a furious storm of IMs day and night.
And as executive editor, my day is filled with video chat meetings held in what the @hamiltonmusical folks playfully refer to as "The Zoom Where It Happens." ("Say what you like, but we'll never really know until you unmute your mike.")
In a national and local crisis, the Democrat and Chronicle isproducing significantly more stories and video and reaching more readers than usual, even as our newsroom sits empty. Only digital technology and no small amount of ingenuity by my colleagues makethat possible.
Yet when I think of our empty building at the corner of East Main and Clinton, what I see in my mind's eye are not all of our technology but 45 words on a wall. Those words are etched on the east wall in our largest meeting space, aptly called the First Amendment Room.
Those words make up thefirst item in the Bill of Rights written by James Madison 230 years ago. They'veshaped America as much or more than any other words our nation's founders wrote.
If you're celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ today on Easter, or you held seders last week to mark Passover, or you will soon fast for a month's time in observance of Ramadan, your right to do so is protected in the First Amendment.
And freedom of religion is not the only one the amendment makes possible:
The other freedom protected by the First Amendment obviously is freedom of the press. It's what makes the D&C's work possible.
Our nation's founders no doubt had as many issues with the press of their time as our current leaders do with the press today. Nonetheless, those founders were wise enough to recognize that a press operating independently of the government could give voice to the people and the people's concerns.
More: When you need the news, remember the news needs you
The people's concerns? Our current public-health crisis has generated an untold number of them.
What is government doing to protect our health?
Could more be done to lessen the toll of illness and death in our nursing homes?
Could work for front-line employees in grocery stores, in the public transit system and elsewhere be made more safe?
How can public-health messages be modified and improved to reach residents of diverse neighborhoods where the toll is tending to be higher than elsewhere (zip code 14609 in Northeast Rochester in our case)?
What do mathematical models show us about the eventual course of the outbreak?
Why is it so hard to obtain unemployment benefits?
And, the $64,000 question, when will the local and state economy re-open, and how can that be done in a manner that doesn't re-ignite the coronavirus'sspread?
More: How to support Rochester businesses
Our reporters have been asking these questions and more daily over the past five weeks, as seen in this video interview with Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza on Friday. And we'll continue to press questions until this is over.
This just in: I'm pleased to say the act of me writing this column is allowing me to break some news. I'd written the following threeparagraphs, then reached out to Monroe County Director of Communications Julie Philipp (a former D&C colleague)to let her know what we were suggesting. Her response follows thesethree paragraphs.
We recognize Monroe County officials are swamped with life-and-death decisions daily, yet we encourage County Executive Adam Bello's administrationto make 1-2 key officials available daily for the duration for reporters to question. Too much can happen in a day, or two, or three, in this crisis, and the public will benefit most from having clarity every day.
Indeed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown the power of the daily divulging of new information and the taking of reporters' questions. His daily presentations have become must-watch TV, and not simply in New York state. He is presenting astoryline that the public can follow each day and understand.
What does a local version of that look like? I don't think it'd be going out on a limb to suggest it would benefit public health and morale in greater Rochester.
The county's Philipp replied to me: "We are setting up a studio at the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) so we can do regular briefings." These briefings might begin as Zoom video conferences, she said.
The D&C is grateful for the county's looming effort.
Such briefings (preferably daily)would help reporters at the D&C and at other local news outlets do our jobs best. And when we do our jobs best even WFH or wearing PPEor typing IMs or Zooming it's because we know quite well for whom the founders wrote the First Amendment: You, ourreaders and viewers.
I pledge to you this:None of us asked for this crisis, and each of us dreams of the day it will bebehind us. Until then, the D&C is with you and for you and this great community and state every step of the way.
Thanks for reading.
Michael Kilian is executive editor of the Democrat and Chronicle. Reach him at MKILIAN@Gannett.com.
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