What happens when you lose track of your own story

Political Theater, Episode 121

When the coronavirus pandemic hit and Congress moved to address it, the narrative quickly morphed into the biggest story many journalists had ever covered.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and Congress moved to address it, the narrative quickly morphed into the biggest story many journalists had ever covered. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Jason Dick
Posted April 2, 2020 at 3:46pm

The word “journalist,” which dates back to the 17th century, comes from the French and means one who keeps a journal.

When it started to dawn on all of us just how serious the coronavirus pandemic was, journalists all around prepared for what will likely be the biggest story we ever cover.

And it’s natural to want not just to cover the story, but to also cover how we cover the story. One thing we set out to do at Political Theater was to keep an audio diary of what was happening, to make sure the small moments, and personal ones, did not get lost amid the big moments.

Easy enough, right? This is an audio-based medium, so what would make more sense than to keep an audio diary? That should be easy enough, as a podcast host, and as someone helping coordinate CQ Roll Call’s coverage in the newsroom.

Well, as the old joke goes: How does one make God laugh? Simple. Make a plan.

It started out smoothly enough. The day I started the audio diary, March 13, I peppered my time at the Capitol with several entries, and for good measure recorded some thoughts on my walk home.

That was also the day my workplace sent out the order to work from home or remotely.

I kept that up pretty well on the following Monday, March 16, as the pandemic and Congress’ response to it continued to increase in size and significance.

Then, I’ll be honest with you. Events got away from me. Work-from-home recommendations gave way to shelter-in-place dictates from local government and the White House.

Setting up a home office with a laptop, podcasting gear and other workplace materials, all while trying not to trip over and bother my wife and stepson, became a part of the day to navigate, along with daily updates of infection rates and the death toll.

Congress worked late into the night. There was a constant calculus as to how to keep my colleagues safe while still laying witness to history.

There were tidbits I was able to record, here and there. But in the most basic sense of being a journalist, journaling, at least on the personal and professional side, well, that took a back seat to just trying to keep up with a rapidly evolving and dangerous situation.

But there were some moments where I remembered to record. Some of them take me back to what was happening — offstage moments, if you will. Some are interesting but not news. Some are just silly.

But it’s part of the record now, and that’s important, even if there are some gaps. Because it’s important to be witness to what’s happening now, for ourselves, for future generations. It’s the essence of what we do. Even if it sometimes gets overwhelming, throws off our routines and lays waste to the best intentions.