Steve Fennessy with sons Casey (left) and Jack (center).)
Caption
Steve Fennessy with sons Casey (left) and Jack (center).)

An "extinction-level event" is how one news industry expert described the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on newspapers and other journalism outlets.

As millions of Americans rely on local news sources for coronavirus information, “roughly 36,000 workers at news companies in the U.S. have been laid off, been furloughed or had their pay reduced. Some publications that rely on ads have shut down,” according to the New York Times.

The topic is personal to Atlanta-based journalist Steve Fennessy, whose position as executive editor at Atlanta magazine was eliminated in March.

Fennessy sends this audio postcard to All Things Considered on GPB. This is the latest in our series of personal commentaries by people in quarantine who record themselves on their phones and email the audio to host Rickey Bevington.

Steve Fennessy is an Atlanta journalist whose position as executive editor at "Atlanta" magazine was eliminated during the coronavirus pandemic. While still in quarantine, he sent this audio postcard to GPB's "All Things Considered" host Rickey Bevington.

Keep listening to All Things Considered on GPB to hear more personal reflections on the coronavirus pandemic.

To hear all of the audio postcards we're collecting from Georgians in quarantine scroll down.

Commentary from Steve Fennessy

Every few days my phone will buzz with an alert from an alternate universe.

“Take Casey to Soccer game. 10:30.”

“Jack – parent-teacher conference 2 p.m.”

“Atlanta United game 7:30 p.m.”

These are the digital remnants of the life I am no longer living.

Christy, my wife, keeps asking me why I haven’t just deleted the whole calendar from my phone, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s like I’m keeping alive some possibility of a parallel existence — one where our two sons are playing sports and going to school, one where Christy and I are syncing our schedules to ensure the boys have a ride from aftercare to soccer, one where I …. Well, one where I have a job.

As it turns out, I am one of the 1 million Georgians who’ve filed for unemployment in the past month. On March 31, I was laid off from Atlanta magazine, where I’d worked for 15 years, including eight as editor-in-chief.

For-profit journalism is challenged in the best of times; it’s about as equipped to withstand a pandemic as my dog is suited to making our dinner. So I can’t say having my position eliminated was a surprise. And I am far from alone.

Around Georgia — around the country — hundreds of journalists are being laid off or furloughed, at a time when the need for reliable information has never been more critical. One industry expert characterized what’s happening to journalism – to newspapers especially — in the wake of the coronavirus as an “extinction level event.”

And so my daily commute now is back and forth between two anxieties.

One is the very singular stress, now felt by millions of my countrymen and women, who wake up wondering when will we get a paycheck again, how will we pay our bills, how will we save for our children’s educations?

The other is an anxiety that is far bigger than me, and goes to our role as citizens in our democracy: What will it mean for America as our sources for facts wither, when there are fewer and fewer watchdogs holding our leaders to account? I have always believed that the strength of a democracy is tied directly to the health of its fourth estate. Today, both feel embattled. Both feel beat down.

So for my part, I am trying to focus on my blessings, which are many. First, and most important, my family is healthy. We have our home. My wife has her job. And I have, for now anyway, the gift of time.

Today I took our boys to Lullwater Preserve at Emory University, where my youngest son checked in with his classmates from my phone as he sat on the branch of a towering magnolia, and where his brother declared he wanted to do his schoolwork sitting under the tree’s boughs.

“I am happy here,” he said.

And later, when we got home, I finally emptied my calendar.