My best friend recently texted me about her husband. I anxiously scanned the post – a mandatory daily update that I requested as soon as I learned he had contracted COVID.
He was isolating himself at home and his condition was deteriorating. He’s in his 30s and considered low risk, but he has fallen prey to the virus’s most intriguing aspect and its most dangerous: an ability to project weakness and then, when you least expect it, its transformation into a force weakening your lungs, your muscles, your mind.
His message was one that 2020 could have spoken, if he could speak: “I go from being extremely positive to completely stressed.”
Fortunately, after several days, his temperature finally gave way. He survived, having been locked in his basement for days, facing the gross loneliness of illness; without the comfort of his wife’s presence or the morning laughter of his daughters. At his lowest point, he was so weak he couldn’t even talk to them, let alone eat.
Not everyone had to endure this level of suffering, and for some it was even worse. But if there is one link that binds us all, it is having to face the reality of isolation. The fact that we have lived apart – together – is one of the many paradoxes of 2020.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, our teams were working in overdrive to report changes in real time, while experiencing it ourselves. The week before we sent everyone home to work remotely – indefinitely – was full of ironies. I alternated between setting our news agenda in the morning editorial meeting, exploring new angles of coverage around COVID – to being thrown into crisis management mode amid growing whispers from the room. report that the first cases of the virus had arrived in Qatar.
The truth was, we could put together all the journalistic know-how we wanted, but that wouldn’t change the fact that, like everyone else, we had no idea what was really going on.
So we reported an elusive story as best we could, with live updates For days. We have doubled our responsibility to arm our audiences with reliable information. There was a time when we made the decision to stop posting pictures of people wearing masks, not to “mislead” the public into thinking they were working. We quickly reversed this trend, as soon as the WHO and the scientific community at large canceled their mask returns.
It reminded me of a powerful scene in the otherwise overrated romantic comedy, The Big Sick, in which the protagonist turns to his comatose girlfriend’s mother and says with childish hope, “I think these doctors know what the hell is wrong with it. ‘they do!
To which she replies, “No, they don’t. They just throw it, like everyone else.
We also launched it, to a certain extent. And our audience was with us every step of the way. Our comprehensive coverage of the pandemic in March was our most trafficked day in history, breaking previous records in 2011 around Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring. Our American election coverage last month came right after. It is a testament to the tenacity and dedication of our journalists that we achieved this while scattered across the world in a completely secluded newsroom.
I also believe in the power of shared struggle, albeit disparate. We were there with our readers in a way we’ve never been before – awkwardly navigating the loss of freedom in exchange for intangible prevention, dealing with the unnatural nature of the restriction of social interaction between highly social beings, the privileged among us facing unprecedented restrictions. . The penny dropped for me when one day while driving, I rolled down my car window and my four year old son warned me: “Mom, don’t let the coronavirus in!”
We also lost loved ones, and we were keenly aware that our historic highs and record coverage were built around tragic events that touched millions of people around the world. It was a reminder of the sadistic thread that we journalists pass through our needle as we sew together the events of the day: a zeal to break bad news and deliver it correctly. Indeed, this aspect of our work is often the subject of terrible jokes among colleagues, as the saying goes: “What happens in the newsroom, stays in the newsroom.” You have to laugh in order not to cry.
But something we’re proud of at Al Jazeera is cutting through the clutter of reports, government euphemisms, death numbers recited and revised effortlessly, like counting on a board that is easily erased and replaced in the morning. The best days we try to put human history at the forefront of our reporting.
We raise the voice of the forgotten, like the world health workers risking their lives in the midst of COVID-19, or Cameroonian girls who dread their 10 years because that’s when their mothers iron their breasts in a tortuous cultural custom, or showing you the names and faces of Black people killed by the police in the United States, not just the statistics, or the chronicle last desperate days of a Ghanaian domestic worker in Lebanon. Her name was Faustina Tay. She was 23 years old.
On the worst days we try to offer a different perspective and if we’re lucky and depending on who you are, we may even complicate your worldview a bit.
But to be honest, 2020 has tested our mission to its limits. The lines between being a fair source of information, distant from the subject matter of our stories, and the lived experiences of the voices we raise through our reporting were blurred.
We too were afraid of a force invisible to the naked eye, wielding power over the world, infecting governments and affecting our way of life. We were also mothers and fathers attending our children’s homeschooling for the first time, rushing between Zoom meetings and homework checks and a heartwarming restless curiosity confused on the other side of the house. the window.
Throughout the year, we have been there with you, wary of the unintended consequences of the pandemic on the global economy, facing budget cuts that have affected our resources and workforce. Many of us were separated from sick family members, unable to get on planes to join them when they needed us most.
I have also received distraught phone calls from staff members who have fallen into depression and just need to know that everything will be fine. It turns out that sometimes we have to cry. And sometimes this piece about mental health comes from a truly authentic source.
Some may expire on January 1, 2021; not because of the illusions about its ability to erase the impact of 2020, nor the inevitability of an unknown tragedy that awaits the world, but perhaps because of the wisdom we have – reluctantly – gained through to its challenges.
To those who have turned to us to make sense of the ups and downs of 2020, even when we weren’t quite sure ourselves: Thank you. You have stayed with us and inhaled our content like never before, and we will continue to strive to balance the demands of the global news agenda with the needs of our readers.
What we’ve learned is that sometimes our job is simple: educate our audience on what they want to know about, and do it well.
But more importantly, we’ve learned that we shouldn’t always congratulate ourselves on emphasizing human history as a detached arbiter of the news. More often than not, the best approach is to frame our journalism from a position of our shared humanity.