Letter from the editor: the road ahead

Natalie Parks

The weekend before Kentucky’s first case of COVID-19, I spent all of Saturday in the Kernel office.

I was working on a story that has now been swamped under the deluge of coronavirus news, but that at the time had been the source of weeks of writer’s block.

I had the office to myself, and in a last-ditch effort to bring form to my story, I printed out all of my interviews – pages and pages of quotes and data – and spread them out on the floor.

I cut up all those pages line by line and then spread the pieces on the floor, too. Sitting in the middle of the piles, I tried to make sense of these random snippets of information, shuffling them around and reordering them as if they would magically arrange themselves into something coherent and meaningful.

They must have eventually, because I got my story written, although lots of tape and more cutting was involved.

Nearly two months later, the Kernel office sits empty and I sit at home, having left campus when the semester went online. Our world often seems unrecognizable – in movies and on television, characters who normally represent us now look incredibly out of touch, gathering in crowded places and kissing strangers as they do.

And yet in the midst of previously unthinkable change, I sometimes feel like I’m still sitting in that Kernel office. Information is coming in from every angle; press conferences from doctors, the latest order from the governor, phone calls from lonely and scared relatives, stories of hope and stories of grief unfolding on our timelines, newspapers the world over putting forth seemingly endless streams of updates – updates that are necessary and vital, but still frightening. Contradictory advice is thrown about everywhere, all the more concerning as scientists and doctors learn more about this still-unknown disease.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Like so many slips of paper on the floor, our lives now are fragmented, disconnected, interrupted. Nothing much makes sense, and a path forward is hard to find.

As Editor-in-Chief of the Kentucky Kernel, my job in the year ahead is to take those fragments and create a whole. My staff and I will make order out of chaos – not with scissors and tape, but with our minds, hearts and likely many long nights ahead.

As journalists, we will endeavor (as always) to tell our readers what they need to know when they need to know it. Many, many years in the future, this time will be written about in history books; people around me keep saying this, as though it’s supposed to make up for the pain and suffering people are experiencing. We at the Kernel want you to know that your stories are important now – and that, online school or no, we will continue to tell your stories, through writing, photography and multimedia.

Now more than ever, we know that journalism is essential (a word not to be used lightly). We know that the truth matters. We know that reporting on COVID-19 is a necessity, but more than that, reporting on our communities is a way to heal.

No one knows what the next year will look like. But I can promise that whatever happens, the Kernel will be there, working alongside you as we navigate this new normal.

There is still unimaginable grief ahead. But one day, things will be normal. Five o’clock will mean quitting time and not Andy Time. Stock in Zoom will go back down. People will forget that we ever used to shake hands. The world won’t look the way it used to. It might be a pasted-up, misshapen, and generally ugly-looking world, but it will be there. So have hope, and be kind.