The sky is falling! (So call the newspaper?)


About 30 seconds after the buildings shook, our phones started ringing.

“Hi, yes, did you feel something? My building just shook!”

That’s when we realized that what we felt wasn’t due to falling paper rolls or shifting machinery on the press downstairs.

And by the minute point, when I looked back at my computer and refreshed my Facebook page? Statuses filled the page, mostly by my DC area friends, with “earthquake” followed by exclamation marks.

Glancing back up at the television on the wall — still within five minutes of the shaking — I saw images of the White House and called out to the newsroom and we gathered around, soaking in just enough that when our phones rang again, calls lighting up the switchboard and being funneled our way, we had something to tell people.

Over the scanner an alarm blared and police officers complained that the system was overloading and was the building shaking? They briefly evacuated the buildings on campus.

One of them called me, asked if I knew what was going on and even as I told him — earthquake in Virginia — another alarm blared loud through the phone and he hung up.

That was the only hint at damage in the county.

The first calls were the anxious, excited ones: did we feel that? Did we know what it was? So I’m not going crazy?

But the information spread so very quickly that within 15 minutes we were getting other calls, readers eager to be part of the news happening around them.

“Just thought you’d like to know I felt it out here,” they said when I answered my phone. “Felt like the vibrations on the bridge crossing into Pittsburgh at rush hour.”

Walking home in the sunshine of a cool afternoon, past boys in football pads and new students with notes in their hands, I wondered at the immediate reaction in those minutes after the buildings trembled.

To immediately pick up the phone, call the newspaper, wouldn’t have crossed my mind — and I work at one. There’s an odd faith in news, I guess, thinking we must know what happened even though we’ve just experienced it along with everyone else.

And there’s the need to be part of the story — whatever the story is.

That I saw on Facebook; heard in the voices. There was an eagerness, a quickness to share their experience, what they felt. Friends posted exclamations and I did too, only have pretending it was to elicit reactions for the story.

And walking home I felt comforted, strangely. Because I work in profession in the midst of a crisis, and there’s been questions asked and rarely answered about the future of newspapers, and journalism, and what will the news of the future look like? And they say newspapers are nearly obsolete, in print form at least, but I love the feel of paper between my hands and how you can spread it out on your front porch and use it for wrapping paper.

And most days I wish I had been born just 10 years earlier, to really enjoy journalism before this crisis.

But when the buildings shook and men and women, they picked up their phones and called us, called for answers and called to share their stories, I was comforted.

Because wherever we’ll be 10 years from now, we’re not obsolete yet.

The people here, they still need their local newspaper.

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