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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Richard Connor: One streak ends, another begins

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I coulda been a contenda. I could have kept the streak alive but COVID-19 put me in a funk and built a huge wall of writer’s block.

I’ve worked with one of our editors for 47 years with a few breaks in between. We began with me editing and directing his reporting and then editing his work as a columnist.

The years rolled by and now he edits my work and often cautions me to slow down or actually stop when I get on an editorial rant.

I value his advice and his editing is pitch perfect. The best editors improve on a writer’s work. He hits the right notes.

We often have lively banter back and forth and a few years ago we decided to see how many weeks in a row I could write an original column. It was a challenge that we jokingly likened to Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak or how Ted Williams held on to become the last .400 hitter. We use analogies to baseball because he is a fan. I didn’t realize that Thursday was the first day of the 2020 season. Will this baseball season ever end, I ask?

If it’s statistics we want to discuss, forget the box scores. I am more likely to focus on the single-day record Tarrant County set Wednesday when 871 new COVID-19 cases were reported. Six deaths were reported, bringing the county’s coronavirus death total to 310.

My writing streak was at two-plus years of consecutive weekly columns, probably 130 or so, when the fog of this pandemic enveloped me. I happen to be among those who have always believed in wearing a mask and in social distancing, and from early in the health crisis I could barely think of anything else.

I’ve been obsessed with those who have refused to play by the rules, who have been reluctant to stay away from others or wear masks, even where mask-wearing has gone from voluntary to mandated. I’ve never doubted the seriousness of this disease and its consequences.

I happen to be in an age group more vulnerable than others and I have chronic bronchitis. So this deadly pandemic has somewhat frozen me from being able to think about, much less write about, anything else.

And most of what I have to say has been said. The federal government and many state governments, Texas notably among them, have failed us. Donald Trump has made a mockery of his office. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has botched every decision. Too many people believe this whole thing is a hoax.

I wonder how many other routines have been broken in our readers’ personal and professional lives? At our business, the Fort Worth Business Press, we have worked hard to maintain our operation but with a drastically reduced staff.

We are all working from home, and the newness and actual fun in that begins to dissipate over time as the isolation increases. We conduct a Teams video conference every day at 8:30 a.m., and more than anything else it keeps our staff connected with one another on more of a personal level.

Some companies are holding emotional support meetings on video. That may sound like New Age malarkey but it’s not. The emotional damage wrought by the pandemic is real and as deadly serious as the disease itself.

Everyone has had to improvise in the course of dealing with the virus. Restaurants have had to change the way they serve their customers and grocery stores have had to implement stringent safety meaures.

For our part, the pandemic hit just as we were finalizing plans for our annual Forty Under Forty event honoring individuals in the community who have achieved business and personal success before reaching the age of 40. The event is normally held indoors, in a banquet-type setting, which became an impossibility at the height of the coronavirus lockdowns. We postponed the program until conditions permitted us to hold it outdoors, at a drive-in movie theater, following all the appropriate guidelines to assure the health and safety of everyone involved.

Even folks trying to get from one place to another have had to adapt. A couple I know has been making a long car trip from north to south through the U.S. The husband is fighting pancreatic cancer and decided he needed a break. By the time they got to a hotel, the kitchen was closed and there were no open restaurants in the neighborhood. Luckily they had some leftover pizza – but how to heat it for a late-night snack? They found a clothing iron in their room and used it to warm the food.

We have not seen the worst of either the pandemic or the disastrous side effects to our personal lives and our businesses. The negative impact on business has not even begun to register. Many, many businesses will not survive this.

At our business we have aggressively moved toward a more digital presence and with those changes have come new subscribers and an ever-growing audience. People want more news and they have more time to read it. Our task now is to convince advertisers they can reach more people and in turn sell more products and services by taking advantage of our larger audience.

It’s tough not to be downright grim, although I have always believed that over time things change and actually get better. You have to work at believing it.

This is column one of the new streak. Watch out, Joe DiMaggio.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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