When I slid my chair up to the dinner table March 15, Sid Hartman was supposed to be there, him and some Star Tribune and ’CCO muck-a-mucks wearing suits nicer than mine.
Oh, that was going to be a day. Sid wasn’t my only appointment. I lead the Star Tribune sports copy desk, the editors who design pages, write headlines, assemble roundups, check facts and send pages to the pressroom seven nights a week on deadline. Weeks before, the boss had wisely closed his door before he asked me to schedule something besides covering NCAA Selection Sunday on Selection Sunday: The celebration of Sid’s 100th birthday. I was invited to dinner.
Sid’s dinner never happened.
In the midst of the pandemic, I instead slid my chair up to a familiar dinner table that night and published the sports section from home for the first time. We haven’t published from the newsroom since.
We never imagined we’d try this. An occasional editor working remotely, we’d done that. But the slot (newsroomspeak for that evening’s leader), rim (newsroomspeak for copy editors) and page designers absent as a group? Never mind. For 22 years until March 15, I drove 37 miles to downtown Minneapolis for every shift.
Now editors log in from Apple Valley and Edina, St. Michael and south Minneapolis, far north Oak Grove and far south New Prague. Their equipment ranges from just a tablet — I don’t know how he does it — to my latest setup of laptop, 27-inch monitor and tablet, spread over two desks in a back bedroom. There’s also an office chair from the newsroom; nobody saw the long-haired, masked man wheeling away furniture as suspicious.
Last week I greeted my youngest son on his return from the University of North Dakota not with a hug but a statement: We’re gonna have some Wi-Fi rules around here. He produced a LAN cable that made it all work. Kids these days. But I can’t tell my neighbors to stop streaming so my cursor doesn’t lag. Our eyes are not trained to wait to see what character we just typed. Typos are the result; we try not to print those.
No challenge is greater each night than communication. Anything changes, I need a note. Is Patrick Reusse’s column ready for the website? What’s holding up that caption? Who’s warming dinner? The closer the deadline, the more notes I need.
We had wondered whether we could do this at full speed, with breaking news. Then the Vikings made their No. 1 draft pick at 9:57 p.m., three minutes ahead of our deadline. Yes, we can.
It’s no surprise to me we adapted. Success won’t surprise me if we’re still working this way when we get back to 14-page sections, either. That’s not conceit, that’s admiration.
Our major league newspapering lineup features perennial All-Stars, teammates beyond co-workers. You’d admire them, too. And I won’t let the chance to say this pass: Their goal is to provide you, readers, exactly what you want. I used to sit with them and talk about that. Now we send Slack messages about it every night.
Not all of our messages are about the sports section. Before the virus we spent more time with each other than with our families. I need to know how Brian’s dog, Ernie, and Jeff’s dog, Eleanor Rigby, are doing and whether Pete saw Harmon go yard on that rebroadcast. Or to hear this from Roman on his day off: “KB, you see the U filled that softball job?” Me: “Yep, we got the news and quotes, too.” Roman: “Dang, I wish I was working.”
Has an era ended? Will the next Oscar or Emmy winner with a newsroom setting have to be a period piece? That’s unknown.
This is clear: If showing the excitement of the newsroom on deadline is the goal, my back bedroom isn’t going to cut it.