We Have an Issue: Greetings From the Very Near Future
Notes from a week in isolation
Here are some of the things that are bringing me comfort right now: Making my own tortillas. The Ringer Podcast Network and the Blank Check movie podcast. A 1,000-piece puzzle featuring iconic scenes from cinema. Fetch with my dog. And Love Island Australia, a reality show about good-looking people locked in a beach house and bopping between romantic partners.
It’s a terrible show, naturally, but the perfect speed for my slow, sticky brain right now and also an excuse for an epic texting chain with dear friends. This past weekend, we discovered that I, who live alone and had been gulping episodes like lungfuls of air, had gotten way ahead of everyone, into deepest spoiler country. “It’s like I’m talking to you from the future,” I joked.
I thought of my dumb joke again on Tuesday, when the official stay-at-home order went into effect, requiring individuals to “remain in place at home or place of residence, with exceptions for essential work and activities.” The new order was expected – and so much friendlier-sounding than the “shelter-in-place” language other cities have been using – but nonetheless surely landed like a blow with a lot of Austinites still more or less going about their business as usual.
For me, the stay-at-home order required exactly zero alterations to the way I’ve been living my life for almost a week. Self-quarantine? Already there, friends.
If you read this column in print last week, you missed the postscript I affixed online, mere hours after we sent the issue to the printer, with the news that one of our Austin Chronicle staff members had tested positive for the virus, making them one of then-33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Austin. (That number has risen to 119 cases as of Wednesday evening.) By the time we got the news, we’d already winnowed the number of people in the office down to a skeleton crew, but no matter – most of our staff* had potentially been exposed to the virus, and we all needed to follow the recommended protocols.
Which is why I’m writing to you now, a week into home isolation.
I wish I had some special insight. But you already know the profound uneasiness of this weird new world, how destabilizing it is.
You know the prickling panic. Is that a scratchy throat? Should I take my temperature again? A few of you surely already know what it’s like when the virus touches a friend, a co-worker.
You know the chaos this abrupt transition to remote working or schooling causes – how you have to rewrite overnight all the systems you’ve spent years perfecting, and how much you miss those seemingly throwaway conversations you have around the office coffee pot.
You know the fury when you see this crisis criminally mishandled by the president, exploited by elected officials for popularity points, and abused by our governor to deny Texan women their right to health care.
You know the absolute dread of wondering if this epidemic will take your job away. And for some of you, the wondering is well past: That particular future is already here.
Local news outlets – many of them small, independent businesses like the Chronicle – are reeling. Our fellow alt-weeklies are bleeding out, with mass layoffs announced and some even closing their doors for good. As we announced last week, the Chronicle is moving for the next six weeks from a weekly to a biweekly print production schedule; what you’re reading now marks our first digital-only issue in the history of the paper.
But cutting printing costs is not enough to make up for the staggering loss of advertising. On Monday, we reduced hours for most of our staff of 44, across every department.
It hurts. It had to be done. It’s bad. It’s really bad. It could have been even worse.
No one was laid off, and everyone still has their insurance. We’re committed to resuming normal operations and restoring everyone to their regular 40 hours a week. We’re committed to keeping up our high journalistic standards. We’re committed to supporting our community. We’re committed to finding new partnerships and revenue opportunities. We’re just committed, y’all.
By Tuesday afternoon, with too many Zoom meetings to count behind us, the Chronicle staff had an email chain going swapping photos of our pets. I’m not saying it made everything better. But it did inch us a little closer to a feeling that’s been hard to come by in this scary futurescape. Photos of our dogs doing cute shit? It felt normal.
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Editor's note: This column originally imprecisely suggested everyone on Chronicle staff had potentially been exposed to the virus; however, not all staff – including our photographers – work in the office, or had visited the office during the possible exposure window. The story has been updated to clarify that.