The New Year’s Eve party that ushered in my 2020 seems like a lifetime ago.
A neighbourhood collection of hockey parents crowded into a basement. Finger foods and drinks. Handshakes, hugs and kisses. At the stroke of midnight, we staggered out into the cold for a fireworks show that lit up the sky.
On that night, we had no idea what was silently headed our way, how our lives would be changed, disrupted and upended in ways we could never have imagined.
Exactly 365 days later, we now know all too well and all too painfully what this year has wrought. To say 2020 was a dumpster fire doesn’t even come close; at least dumpster fires can be extinguished.
When the pandemic hit Manitoba on March 12, the Free Press — like newspapers everywhere — was at risk because of underlying conditions that long predate COVID-19. The virus spread and our business model, still reliant on advertising dollars, began to falter as the economy was induced into a coma. There were more than a few nights where I worried how long we could keep this newsroom going.
In those first frightful weeks, there was an urgency to everything we did. And in the urgency of that essential journalism, something unforeseen began to take root.
Each day, more people were signing up to become paid readers at a rate that exceeded even our wildest forecasts. Every week, the number of stories read trended higher. After a month, we started to get notes of encouragement and cards of thanks.
Then the donations started to come in from readers who wanted to do more to help us weather the viral storm. More than a few seniors sent their $200 cheque from the special provincial pandemic payment our way. In the case of one of those generous donations, the reader told me to do whatever I thought was best for our newsroom, whether it was buying ink or drinks. I opted for a socially distanced happy hour at an outdoor pop-up bar at Assiniboine Park (where my staff ran up a bill that went well past $200!).
Despite the restrictions, the lockdowns and the imposed remoteness of the pandemic, the connection deepened between the Free Press and those we serve with our journalism. That connection has strengthened our bottom line at a time when we desperately needed it. That connection ensured our newsroom grew rather than retreated. That connection will allow us to do more in 2021 to cover the virus and all the other stories that matter to you, too.
There won’t be any fireworks when I ring in 2021, as I’ve had enough pandemic-triggered pyrotechnics to last a lifetime. But there will be a toast of thanks to you and the rest of our readership for all you’ve done for the Free Press, and all that you’ve enabled us to do.
Have a healthy and happy New Year!
— Paul Samyn is the Free Press editor
Paul Samyn has been part of the Free Press newsroom for more than a quarter century, working his way up after starting as a rookie reporter in 1988.