It’s been five months since all this craziness started. Five months that in our wildest dreams we could not have anticipated.
If you had “still dealing with COVID-19 in August” on your Bingo card, you win. I did not and my guess is neither did most of us.
It is not an exaggeration to say it has been a life-changing period of time for everyone.
It has been a difficult journey for all of us during the spring and summer of 2020 — for health care workers and administrators who deal with the carnage the coronavirus has caused, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best; for school districts, teachers, parents, and students who have seen the rule book thrown out the window, exchanged classrooms for Chrome Books, and seen school calendars changed time after time after time, rolling with the punches with few complaints; for restaurants and bars whose owners and operators have had to think up innovative ways to serve customers while maintaining social distancing and rethinking their business models; for anyone who is considered an essential worker – from grocery store clerks to police officers. And yes, that includes newspaper reporters and production workers who have been on the job every single day since the pandemic was declared.
No doubt the pandemic has changed the way we cover the news. COVID-19 has dominated the front page since March and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Festivals and events that would normally make for happier headlines have mostly been abandoned until we are safe to gather. Feature stories, unless they deal with some aspect of the virus, are few and far between. Most sports have been put on hold for the summer. The one constant has been the public meetings we cover on a regular basis – fiscal courts, city commissions, school boards, meetings that are in some cases the only contact the public has with their local government.
However, rather than attend meetings in person, for safety’s sake, reporters have been covering those meetings via Facebook live or by Zoom from the relative safety of their desk.
And therein lies the rub.
It’s been five months and still, most public meetings are closed to the public and instead are being shared in real-time over live streams on Facebook or Zoom. That is understandable under the present circumstances. What is not understandable is the quality of the broadcasts which remains poor to worse-than-poor in most cases. Hearing what officials are saying and sometimes even who is saying it is next to impossible under the present conditions.
If those who sit on commissions, boards and courts are unaware of the problem, especially with sound, then they simply aren’t paying attention to the comments beings posted by their constituents — speak up, we can’t hear, turn up the sound, etc.
Yes, it’s been five months and city and county officials throughout the area have had plenty of time to make improvements or come up with a better method for allowing the public to see and hear what they are doing. We are not talking about sophisticated sound and video systems costing thousands of dollars. We are instead hoping for a few more, higher quality microphones so everyone can be heard and maybe trading a cell phone for an I-pad to catch the entire room on video.
We expect public meetings to continue to be closed to the public for the foreseeable future, at least until the end of 2020. But we also expect an improvement in the quality of what is produced for the public. City and county governments should and must do better. After all, it’s been five months.