A North Carolina town’s wise choice

carrboro-logoA new government recently took power in Carrboro, North Carolina — at least in name. The town, which is home to about 20,000 people, is now ruled by a Town Council instead of a Board of Aldermen.

The Carrboro council is typical of local governments in North Carolina, consisting of six members and the mayor. For the past 50 years, this group was known as the Board of Aldermen. Today, five of those seven people are women, which made the -men element of the name awkward.

That’s because alderman has its origins in Old English, meaning an “elder or wise man.” Its earliest use dates to before the 12th century, according to Merriam-Webster.

“Some of us who’ve been sitting on this board have really felt the pinch of being referred to as aldermen,” board member Randee Haven-O’Donnell said, as reported by The News & Observer in Raleigh. “I’m saying that because folks don’t realize that the gender neutral matters.”

Carrboro’s move from Board of Aldermen to Town Council has gone over well with the town’s residents.

“We have not heard any negative feedback about our name change,” said Mayor Lydia Lavelle in an email interview. “In fact, I have heard positive comments from folks that this will make it more clear for people to understand what we do now, and I agree.”

The change in the board’s name reflects a trend nationally to include more inclusive word choices. For example, council members in Berkeley, California, voted in 2019 to revise the city code to make its language gender neutral.

It’s also an issue on the minds of editors, including those who work with writing about government and policy.

The Associated Press Stylebook has numerous entries about word choice and gender. For example, it suggests firefighter over fireman. It recommends representative over congressman for members of the U.S. House.

The stylebook allows chairperson or chair if that’s what an organization says it prefers. It shuns divorcee.

Until recently, the stylebook was OK with man and mankind when both men and women are involved and “no other term is convenient.”

Perhaps for future editions, the stylebook’s editors could group these scattered entries into one larger one as they have with umbrella entries on gender identity and race-related terms. That would make those guidelines easier to find and apply, and it would send a message that this type of editing is essential.

Such a change, like the one in Carrboro, would be a wise move.

This post also appears in the spring 2020 edition of Tracking Changes, the quarterly journal of ACES: The Society for Editing. The journal is one of the many benefits of ACES membership.

Student guest post: The unfair face of COVID-19

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 14th of those posts. Claire Ruch is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill majoring in journalism and art history with a minor in social and economic justice. She is a feature writer for UNC’s Media Hub and arts editor for Coulture, a student-run lifestyle magazine. In her free time, Ruch enjoys visiting museums and going to concerts.

We live in an image-driven world, especially when it comes to the news.

Media outlets rely on photography to grab our attention. Aside from catchy headlines, it’s the picture plastered on the front page that makes us pick up a newspaper or the clever thumbnail attached to the article that makes us click on a tweet.

At its best, imagery brings the story to life and conveys the news in a way words simply can’t. At its worst, imagery encourages xenophobia and pushes racist narratives.

With coronavirus coverage filling our feeds, I’ve been thinking about the importance of selecting and editing imagery in an ethical manner. Newsrooms need to ensure they’re showing the whole picture – pun intended.

At least 185 countries and territories have confirmed cases of COVID-19. Though the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, this pandemic is truly global, touching every continent except Antarctica.

But photographs of Asian people wearing face masks while they walk through populated cities persist, even when such imagery doesn’t fit the content. It’s like trying to shove a puzzle piece in the wrong spot: It may belong to the bigger picture, but it doesn’t fit in that specific place.

In early March, Metro reported on the first coronavirus case to reach Scotland. It headlined the article with a picture of two Asian tourists sporting face masks outside Edinburgh Castle. The first patient? A Scottish woman returning from a recent trip to Italy.

Across the Atlantic on the same day, March 1, Forbes published a similar photo of an Asian pedestrian wearing a surgical mask to announce New York City’s first confirmed patient. Though Forbes changed the article and replaced the image, Twitter users quickly spotted the pattern of prejudice among other outlets.

Later that night, the New York Post reported on the first coronavirus case in Manhattan with a photo of an Asian man wearing a face mask outside a Duane Reade in Queens – an entirely different borough. Born-and-bred New Yorkers were quick to spot the intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Flushing, a neighborhood known for its large Chinese community.

To make matters more confusing, the Post ran this image in a tweet that links to text describing the city’s initial patient as a woman in her late 30s who caught the virus in Iran before returning to Manhattan. The tweet remains published.

Portraying Asian people in America and abroad as the face of coronavirus is not only unfair, it’s dangerous. In the United States, there’s been an alarming uptick in anti-Asian racism over the past two months. Asian folks have been pushed, verbally abused, spat on and attacked because others falsely assume they’re responsible for COVID-19. Even Asian-owned businesses have seen less patronage.

Journalists are doing incredible work churning out essential coverage under enormous pressure. I can only imagine intensity in newsrooms has accelerated during this crisis when public health depends on the rapid spread of accurate information.

But it’s during these hectic moments that editors must slow down. They should take the time to ensure photographs tell the whole story and the correct story. They should ask whether the imagery stigmatizes already marginalized communities. They should consider if other visuals might better reflect how multiple, diverse groups are taking safety measures during the outbreak.

In February, the Asian American Journalists Association called on news organizations to “exercise care” in coronavirus coverage. It urged against the use of generic Chinatown images to illustrate the virus (something even The New York Times has come under fire for on a popular Instagram account).

The association also warned against the use of photos showing Asian people in face masks without proper context. In East Asian countries, wearing the gear to protect from pollution was commonplace before the outbreak.

While overlooking these concerns when editing might not be akin to President Trump labeling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus,” it stokes the same kind of divisive fear. Though less blatant, these irresponsibly placed photos reignite racist tropes of “foreigners as disease carriers.”

Editors must remember that a picture is worth a thousand words. Slowing down to ask the hard questions can make those words count, and it’s important to do this before publication. Incorporating the AAJA’s guidelines is a good place to start, but fostering open dialogue between writers and editors means less xenophobic errors will slip through the cracks.

“Editors decide what communities get attention and what type of attention they get,” said Kainaz Amaria, Vox’s visual editor. “All too often, underrepresented communities get attention when there is a crisis – creating a sense of ‘otherness.’ All journalists need to be attuned to this aspect of our tradition. … We need to retrain ourselves to better reflect a diverse audience.”

And that retraining can begin with something as simple and as powerful as a photograph.

Q&A with Sara Pequeño of INDY Week

pequeno headshot

Sara Pequeño is digital content manager at INDY Week, an alternative weekly newspaper and website that covers the Triangle region of North Carolina. A 2019 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Pequeño was a student journalist at The Daily Tar Heel and an intern at Our State magazine. In this interview, conducted by email, Pequeño discusses her work at INDY Week, including coverage of COVID-19, and what she learned in journalism school.

Q. Describe your job at INDY Week. What is your typical day like?

A. My title at INDY is “Digital Content Manager,” but I think a more apt title would be “The Person That’s Always Online.” During a normal workday, my job has three components: I add events to the INDY calendar (in print and online), I manage our social media accounts, and I write.

When it comes to writing, I don’t have an assigned “beat,” like some of our other writers. I have written stories that need to go out in minutes, exposed racists, reviewed music, and even got to talk about my love of opossums.

While I don’t know if anyone has a “typical” day in news, I would say the days I have most often go something like this: I get to the office and start scheduling tweets if I didn’t do them the night before. I have to schedule them from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., so I try to make sure we have a nice mix of news and culture stories.

Once I’ve finished that, I do one of three things: Ask our editors if there’s a story we need to get out, search for quick stories on Twitter and other social media sites, or start working on a print piece that requires more reporting. Generally, once I’m done with this, I do things to wrap up and prepare for tomorrow: scheduling social media posts, setting up interviews, and making sure that I’m ready for another day of crazy.

Q. How do headline writing and story editing work at INDY Week?

A. The editing process depends on if the story is for print or online.

If you’re writing a blog post, you tend to edit as you go and write your own headline. Then, you may hand it to someone else, be it another reporter or our editor-in-chief, to glance over and edit. Then once the final changes are made, it gets published on our website. Certain stories go through multiple rounds of fact-checking.

For instance, when I wrote about a Durham business owner calling someone the n-word on Facebook, my EOC and I spent two hours alone going over every single piece of evidence I’d compiled. And this was after I had personally fact-checked and screenshot every comment, phone call and previous issues.

Print is a bit different. We go to print on Tuesdays (although sometimes we have an early deadline on Mondays), so we try to get stories to their respective editor by Friday. From there, we workshop a headline, and you’ll look over any edits they made and shoot it back to them. Then, once it’s laid out on the page, it is “pencil-checked,” where we look for grammatical errors.

All of this is happening with the six writers we have on staff, so it’s pretty important that you make sure your copy is clean and that you’ve caught as many grammar and spelling errors as possible. Normally, I look over these stories once more before they hit the website, just to make sure there weren’t any stray commas or small spelling errors.

Q. The big story of the year (so far) is COVID-19. How has the coronavirus crisis affected your work and INDY Week generally?

A. This is the busiest I’ve been in the six months I’ve worked here.

We are trying to provide people with as much insight and information as possible, but it’s difficult when people are no longer picking up your print copies at their coffee shop or bookstore. We’ve switched to printing every other week for the time being, but we’re still trying to post as much as possible on our website.

This switch to digital puts more pressure on me to break stories, keep our articles circulating on social media and look for voices that are being left out of the narrative. It’s been challenging, but it’s also nice to feel like my job matters this much more.

I have a daily blog quota of ~2 posts a day, and again, I have no beat. I’ve been covering Orange County’s coronavirus response (thankfully I covered the Orange County Health Department for a college class). This week, the paper focused specifically on folks who were being left out of the typical “coronavirus narrative,” and those that could easily fall through the aid program cracks — bartenders, undocumented migrants, tattoo artists, etc.

Q. You are a graduate of the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use in your job, and what new ones have you picked up?

A, Everything I learned about writing, I learned in the journalism school. I’ve always been a writer, but journalism wasn’t even on my radar before I came to college. My professors taught me how to write for news by ripping apart my stories and showing me how they could be stitched back together.

When I went with the MEJO 584 class my senior year to Medellín, Colombia, I realized what makes a good reporter. No one is kidding when they say you have to do your homework; the hours we spent learning bits of Spanish, reading everything we could on Venezuela and the migrants fleeing the economic collapse there.

It also nailed home one of the most important things to learn in journalism: You have to separate your human emotions from your job. I was writing about a family struggling to get adequate health care for their children as undocumented migrants in Colombia. The children were all under 10, and the family had been through a lot in their journey and continued to go through a lot in their new lives in Medellín. It was really hard to separate the human need to help immediately from the greater good of highlighting the Venezuelan economic crisis as a whole. To be honest, I think I could have separated myself more. But I’m glad I learned that in school, rather than reporting a hard story in the field and getting too attached to a subject.

On the other hand, working in a newsroom is a lot different than the imaginary one we create in the j-school; it’s even different from the traditional style of The Daily Tar Heel. Working at an alt-weekly means I don’t have to shy away from picking a side on things I care a lot about: I can call racism what it is. I can advocate for blue-collar workers. I can tell a U.S. senator to resign. It’s been a new experience learning to develop my voice in this way, after working for years to remove any bias and just get to the facts.

Read Sara Pequeño’s stories on the INDY Week website and follow her on Twitter.

Student guest post: What to do when AP style fails on coverage of mental illness

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 13th of those posts. Meredith Radford is a junior in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, with a double major in journalism and political science. She is a writer for the City, State and National desk of The Daily Tar Heel, and a server at Carolina Coffee Shop, a historic Chapel Hill restaurant. In her free time, Radford enjoys listening to podcasts about politics and true crime, visiting coffee shops and spending time in nature.

A few weeks ago, I was editing an article for our class about eating disorder recovery, and I was confronted with a problem. The AP Stylebook does not address eating disorders or how to talk about them.

The first time The Associated Press added an entry on mental illness was in 2013. The change came shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where many questioned the mental health of the shooter, causing a lot of subsequent conversation about mental illness in the media.

This guidance gives basic rules about mental illness as a whole. It says to avoid talking about someone’s mental health unless it is “clearly pertinent” to the story and to not assume mental health issues of someone without proper evidence of up-to date-diagnoses. It also advised against relying on a “history” of mental health issues to explain someone’s actions.

The entry also says to use specific disorders when possible and lists some examples, but it does not go into any more detail about specific diagnoses. The terms in the story I was editing for which I needed guidance, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder, were not at all mentioned. There is no entry on eating disorders in the stylebook.

The only other entry I was able to find that involves mental health is on suicide, which focuses on not covering suicide or suicide attempts unless the person involved is a well-known figure or the circumstances are “unusual or publicly disruptive.” The entry also says not to talk about the methods used, unless it is announced publicly by police or family, and it talks about how to cover medically assisted suicide. It does not cover discussing mental illness involved with suicides.

My concern about the lack of clear guidelines on covering mental illness is that journalists and editors will shy away from discussing them at all, because they are unsure of how to do it correctly.

One in five adults and one in six youth in the United States experience mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Newsrooms across the nation use AP style religiously, and if they’re anything like I am about checking the style guide, they probably become alarmed and unsure when the AP has virtually nothing to say about a topic.

Mental health of any kind is something that should be written about with care, accuracy and consistency. The AP style guide needs detailed recommendations on discussing mental illness in order for that to happen.

Luckily, there are other organizations that have tackled the complexity of writing about mental health.

After I edited that story, my professor sent me information published by the Academy for Eating Disorders, which gives information about what different diagnoses look like and facts about eating disorders generally. The guidelines say that patients with eating disorders have “the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric disorder,” and emphasize the seriousness of all eating disorder types.

While this information doesn’t specifically tell us how journalists should cover EDs, it does give us helpful information on what they are and how seriously they should be treated.

Another source is the Disability Style Guide from the National Center on Disability and Journalism. This guide addresses mental illnesses of all kinds along with other disabilities, many of which also are not covered in the AP style guide. A cool thing about this guide is that it compares its own guidance with the AP style guide suggestions. This guide, however, does not cover eating disorders specifically.

The National Institute of Mental Health is the resource the AP lists along with their entry on mental illness for reference. The NIMH website has additional resources on specific mental health topics, as well as research and statistics on the topic.

As journalists and editors, we must do plenty of research on the subjects we cover to make sure we are being accurate and clear, but also sensitive to the seriousness of certain subjects, particularly mental health.

My hope is that the AP will extend its entries on mental health soon. But until then, editors will need to use resources outside of their AP Stylebook in order to cover mental illness accurately and with care.

An opportunity for free and fun news


My friend and former News & Observer colleague Charles Apple made a generous offer on Twitter this week. He will share his clever, full-page alternative story forms with other newspapers — free of charge.

Apple is a features designer for the Spokesman-Review in Washington state. Back in 2013, when he was at the Orange County Register in California, I interviewed Apple about how he puts together these full-page looks at people, places and events. Here’s the gist:

For years, I’ve been preaching the value of alternative story forms — stories told in shorter, briefer chunks and intermixed with photos or graphics or other visual elements. Even longer narratives can be told in this way — the best example would be the New York Times’ now-famous “Snow Fall” piece. It’s more a matter of how you mix the pieces.

If you are an editor at a newspaper who is looking for this type of material, contact Charles Apple on Twitter or via email at: charlesa [at] spokesman [dot] com. As we hear often these days: What do you have to lose?

Student guest post: Post-pandemic, AP should release in-depth coronavirus style guide

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 12th of those posts. Ashley Mills is a senior broadcast and electronic journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a copy editor with UNC’s Media Hub and script editor at Carolina Week. In her free time, Mills enjoys baking, writing and watching Carolina basketball.

In February, I was working on an assignment in class in which we were to make a Wakelet page on the topic of our choosing. My partner and I chose to put together a page on the coronavirus.

At the time, it was just starting to appear in the United States. It was referred to as “the new coronavirus” or “the novel coronavirus.” On the AP stylebook’s website, there was not an entry on it. There was just a general “coronaviruses” entry and one “Ask the Editor” response.

Less than a month later, the AP published a coronavirus topical guide, giving guidance to writers and editors on things like the difference between quarantine and isolation and what social distancing is. Just “the coronavirus” is now acceptable on first reference; there is no doubt on which coronavirus is being discussed.

In a way, we editors are lucky to have so much guidance in such uncertain times. I know I’ve had to check the topical guide every time I’ve edited a story lately.

Coronavirus is dominating the news, and it will likely continue to do so for months to come. It is the duty of journalists, including editors, to give the most accurate, consistent information possible to the public so that they can protect themselves.

Nothing like this was available for crises like the Vietnam War, the Cold War or other historic events. There was no Twitter or Facebook making information is immediately shareable.

It wasn’t until the 10th anniversary of 9/11 that the AP released a Sept. 11 Style and Reference Guide. There were entries on the attacks in the stylebook, but nothing to the extent of the guide. This guide was released to make sure that facts presented are consistent throughout stories across different news organizations about the tragedy.

Things were included like a specific death count: 2,753 in New York, 40 in Pennsylvania, 184 at the Pentagon.

And a down to the minute timeline: “at 8 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 takes off from Boston’s Logan International Airport… at 8:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into north tower of World Trade Center.”

In the future, a guide like this could be released on the coronavirus pandemic.

And the AP should create and release one, once the pandemic ends, with accurate numbers that all news organizations should cite. Experts are saying the coronavirus could kill 100,000 or more Americans. That’s over 30 times the number of people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.

It is impossible to compare the pandemic to 9/11, but both have changed the world and will continue to for years to come. 9/11 led to increased security not just in airports, but everywhere. Though likely not to the same extent, coronavirus could have a similar impact, with higher standards for cleaning and people requiring a larger berth of personal space.

After this crisis is over, stories about the pandemic won’t stop. In 10 years, perhaps, interns around the world will be assigned to write a story about the anniversary of the pandemic. They will need accurate facts and figures: death counts and timelines and how many ventilators were needed.

The AP can provide that, as they did with their 9/11 guide. The current coronavirus guide is great for right now, while we’re still in the thick of it, but a more detailed guide will be needed in the future.

The internet makes it easy to share and spread misinformation, and with a detailed coronavirus style guide, we can do our part to provide accuracy.

A cat cameo in class


We are entering the third week of teaching online at UNC-Chapel Hill because of the COVID-19 crisis. My two editing courses that met in person are now a blend of synchronous meetings via Zoom and asynchronous learning via readings and assignments.

Students and faculty alike are adapting to this new environment. One thing I learned the first week: A cameo by a pet will bring a Zoom session to life in a hurry.

That’s what happened when my cat appeared in the background in my 8 a.m. class. The students loved it, and the chat window in Zoom filled with questions:

  • What’s his name? (Zazzle)
  • How old is he? (about 12)
  • He looks chonky. (he weighs 20 pounds)
  • Is he still there? (no, he walked away)

Zazzle hasn’t been to class since then, preferring to patrol the kitchen cabinets and other areas of my home before taking his morning nap. But the students still ask about him, and I hope he will make another cameo before the semester concludes.


Student guest post: Keeping up with news in the age of COVID-19

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 11th of those posts. Hannah McClellan is a senior journalism and global studies major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is a senior writer on The Daily Tar Heel and print reporter with UNC’s Media Hub. In her free time she enjoys reading, baking and running.

From the time I was 8 years old, reading the news has been a nearly sacred part of my life.

My interest in the news began the first time my dad invited me to sit with him during his morning perusal of our local newspapers. After a few years, I started reading them myself. In high school, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. Now a senior journalism student in college — and reporter myself — part of my homework and job is literally to read the news.

There are current event quizzes and graded discussions based entirely on the day’s breaking news. And of course, you have to know what’s going on in the world to write about any of it.

On a normal day, keeping up with all the world’s big news is daunting. I mean, constantly staying up to date on Australia’s bush fires, President Donald Trump’s impeachment and Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault and rape trials isn’t exactly easy.

And now, an ever-worsening global health crisis that could change the world permanently makes all the other stories seem sanguine: the coronavirus. The New York Times has an entire portal of coronavirus coverage on its website, featuring nearly constant (and free) live updates. Local and national news organizations alike have largely made their coronavirus coverage completely free.

This vast amount of coverage should be good news, and it mostly is. But in the age of so much news — most of it scary or just plain bad — how do we consume it all? What does being a responsible news consumer look like in this coronavirus-obsessed world we find ourselves in?

As someone who is particularly fond of the news, I have realized that healthily consuming means not consuming as much as before. This revelation occurred to me after a conversation with all of my non-journalist housemates. I’d gone on my third or fourth rant of the evening, vomiting up some grim summaries from my news-reading that day: flattening the curve means elongating the curve, some experts predict social distancing measures may last months and many college graduates will need to file unemployment.

You know, normal, pleasant dinner talk.

Even as I’ve tried to avoid the urge to give so many news commentaries, I’ve found myself constantly scrolling through Twitter — desperate to know the next bad thing, to validate my doom and gloom perspective.

Unfortunately, the bad news is true. Global infections are soaring. More people are unemployed in the United States than ever before. Immunocompromised people are dying alone, even as they self-isolate to prevent sickness. Our doctors do not have enough personal protective equipment to stay safe, even as they work to save lives.
In the midst of all the bad news, there are good things too: people are spending more time outside, some landlords are canceling rent payments and celebrities are hosting free, virtual concerts. It doesn’t make the bad news less bad, but perhaps more bearable.

As the coronavirus spreads to nearly every region of the world, Earth continues spinning. Life goes on, even as it rapidly changes.

So what am I saying? That we should shut out the news and fully immerse ourselves into our social-distanced bubbles? In a word, no.

Journalists are always crucial in my opinion, but that is especially true now. Many are working long hours to give Americans desperately needed coronavirus updates.

Journalists are a crucial part of mitigating this health crisis, as we must know what is happening to do anything about it. So we should be reading — and paying — for the stories they’re writing.

But we must also work to keep the news in perspective, to find ways to manage our coronavirus anxiety. Just as we should be striving to stay physically healthy, individually and collectively, we must also strive for positive mental and emotional health.

For me, that looks like checking the news just three times a day: an hour after I’ve woken up, sometime in the afternoon and then again in the evening. I still end up seeing all of the major updates, but I’m not inundated with it all day every day.

In the time I’m not checking the news, I have time to read, study and talk with friends without distraction. I spend less time on my phone and more time outside. I’m happier.

Reading the news is important, but so is living life — even if it is in the same house, at a 6-foot distance, for a while.

One way to help news organizations covering COVID-19


The coronavirus crisis is hitting nearly every facet of society and the economy. As of March 30, it has killed more than 2,000 Americans and 33,000 people worldwide.

The situation is also dire for news organizations. Some newspapers and websites are laying off employees as advertising evaporates amid the crisis. Alternative weeklies that rely on ads from bars and restaurants are vulnerable, as are regional daily newspapers. The closure of college campuses means no more print editions for student publications.

So what can you do to help? As part of a stimulus package passed by Congress, the federal government will send checks to most Americans. Many people will receive $1,200 or more. (You can see how much you can expect to get with this calculator from The Washington Post.)

For many people suddenly facing unemployment, $1,200 will barely cover the basics. But for others, it’s extra money in the bank at a time when there aren’t many places open to spend it.

If you are among the people receiving one of these payments, I recommend that you use some of the money to support journalism in your area. Consider news organizations that you’ve relied on during this crisis, and subscribe or donate to them.


Student guest post: Writing about sports when the world is standing still

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Brian Keyes is a junior journalism and history major at UNC-Chapel Hill, and he is an assistant sports editor on The Daily Tar Heel. He splits his time between writing sports stories for the newspaper and reporting general news for the Carolina Connection radio show.

Nearly every day for the past six or seven years, I have spent a good portion of every day thinking about sports.

I talk about them, I watch them, I read about the history of the many sports the world has been infatuated with at one time or another and I think more than any rational person should about sports’ place in the world. As a reporter and now assistant editor on the sports desk of The Daily Tar Heel, my obsession has only been fed.

And now there are no more sports. This would be fine, and the suspension of major sports (and all major gatherings) is a necessary step during this ever-worsening global health crisis that I am happy to take, except for the fact that it is my job to write about sports, read about sports and assist others in write about sports here at UNC.

So now I sit in the small living room of my Chapel Hill apartment, wondering what it is exactly that I’m supposed to do? What are my fellow editors and the writers we’re in charge of supposed to do at this moment when our jobs have seemingly been rendered meaningless?

In brighter days, I like to joke when I tell people that I study journalism that I’m not involved in “real” journalism, just sports. Obviously, I don’t actually believe that, but I like to think the self-deprecating humor helps me to keep things in perspective. Win or lose, it’s still just sports. LSU winning the national championship in football will not decide whether people can afford to pay their rents next month, the Washington Nationals winning the World Series does not suddenly mean my hometown is suddenly given the rights of a state and full representation in our national government.

I think everyone saw the entire sports media industry struggle with that fact as the information started coming in that everything would be shutting down, not just moving on without fans. And then there came the more existential question: What good are sports, and by extension sports reporters, when the world is ending?

I think that I’m wrong, though, about sports not mattering. As a rabid fan of one sports team in particular, the Washington Wizards, I should know better, because sports do matter to me. And to a lot of other people as well. They matter because we all collectively decide they do.

And what we love most is the people who play sports. We fall in love with LeBron James or Sabrina Ionescu or Alessia Russo as we watch them perform athletic miracles on a field or a court, and then we care about them. About what they think about, who they are, and what they do when we’re not watching them. We don’t stop caring just because they aren’t on our TVs anymore, and we don’t stop caring just because their seasons have been put on hold.

Recognizing this is the key for us, and me, to figure out exactly what it is we’re going to do now. We’re going to keep reporting on the athletes people care about. Everyone, including athletes, is going to be deeply affected by COVID-19, and people are going to care what happens to them.

But even more than that, now is the perfect time to look at all the people who surround sports and see how their lives are going to be upended. The coverage of which professional sports teams are taking care of their part-time employees while games are postponed is a perfect example.

As sportswriters, we write about people and their emotions, and right now there are plenty of emotions to go around. At The Daily Tar Heel, some of our writers have already started to chronicle the disappointment of the UNC teams that have had their spring seasons canceled. Beyond that, we’ve started to look forward to next season’s sports, with football, women’s soccer and yes, the eventual return of UNC basketball.

The future seems big and scary right now, but I’m optimistic that my job will still have a place in it. We just have to make sure we keep giving people something to care about when this is all over.