Remember the heydays of Your Weekend Reader — the glory days of 2021, when every edition seemed to begin with a new coronavirus story? Well, here’s a flashback to those days, with a brand-new story: Ed Yong, who won a Pulitzer for his coverage in The Atlantic of the pandemic, has written a sobering new piece as the United States approaches 1 million deaths from COVID. Here’s an excerpt:
Many countries have been pummeled by the coronavirus, but few have fared as poorly as the U.S. Its death rate surpassed that of any other large, wealthy nation—especially during the recent Omicron surge. The Biden administration placed all its bets on a vaccine-focused strategy, rather than the multilayered protections that many experts called for, even as America lagged behind other wealthy countries in vaccinating (and boosting) its citizens—especially elderly people, who are most vulnerable to the virus. In a study of 29 high-income countries, the U.S. experienced the largest decline in life expectancy in 2020 and, unlike much of Europe, did not bounce back in 2021. It was also the only country whose lowered life span was driven mainly by deaths among people under 60. Dying from COVID robbed each American of about a decade of life on average. As a whole, U.S. life expectancy fell by two years—the largest such decline in almost a century. Neither World War II nor any of the flu pandemics that followed it dented American longevity so badly.
The headline in Yong’s piece is “How Did This Many Deaths Become Normal?” As we relax mask mandates nationwide and try to “move past” the pandemic, Yong’s piece is worth your time. To its credit, The Atlantic has placed its coronavirus coverage outside its paywall, a practice that other publications should follow.
Incidentally, if you’re confused about what the end of the indoor mask mandate in Oregon might mean for you, Fedor Zarkhin of The Oregonian/OregonLive has a well-done primer.
I cannot remember how many times over my newspaper career I had a reporter tackle a story about gas prices to try to answer the question of why they’re so high. (Oddly, I cannot remember ever asking a reporter to do a story about why gas prices are so low.) In any event, even the best reporters often had difficulty tracking down all the moving pieces — so I was particularly impressed with this story by Kristine de Leon and David Cansler of The Oregonian/OregonLive, which does an exceptional job of explaining why the price of gas is so volatile. The story comes with a couple of charts, and if you dive into them, you’ll find this shocking fact: Benton and Linn counties have some of the cheapest gas in the state. The story is exclusive to subscribers, but — as I have argued in the past — you should subscribe to The Oregonian if you can swing the $10 monthly tab. And maybe you can’t now, thanks to the price of gas.
There’s a lot of news this week about Oregon journalism, and let’s start here: If you think the newsroom for the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald is understaffed, you are correct. But at least it’s not the Herald and News in Klamath Falls, which lost all four of its reporters last week. Eric Neumann of Jefferson Public Radio broke the story, which drew attention nationally. The story also drew a mention in The Oregonian’s “Deep Dive” newsletter, which devoted an edition to an roundup of news about Oregon journalism. The newsletter also mentioned the Statesman Journal’s decision in Salem to cut home delivery to six from seven days a week — in addition to The Oregonian’s decision to stop home delivery in the Salem area, a cost-cutting decision which almost certainly was painful for executives at The Oregonian, the closest thing Oregon has to a statewide paper. The “Deep Dives” newsletter did not mention another bit of Oregonian news, but I can (see the item below):
Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano — arguably the state’s most influential sportswriter (and possibly the state’s best-known journalist, period) — has left the paper to launch a website and a newsletter. The story in The Oregonian about Canzano’s departure was terse enough to make me think that the paper wasn’t particularly pleased by any of this — especially in that it included no details about what he’d be doing. Nevertheless, it was pretty easy to track down what Canzano has planned.
Meanwhile, Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund trying to purchase Lee Enterprises (the owner of the G-T and the D-H), has suffered another setback in its takeover bid. At the company’s annual meeting this past week, Lee stockholders voted to retain three longtime Lee board members despite Alden’s objections. As The Associated Press story about this explains, this likely won’t be the end of Alden’s campaign to buy Lee, but the hedge fund’s next move is unclear. Alden Global, as faithful Weekend Reader readers know, has a well-deserved reputation for buying newspapers and then gutting their newsrooms.
Douglas Perry of The Oregonian/OregonLive had a fascinating piece about Oregon reporter Ralph Barnes, a graduate of Salem High School who went on to a distinguished (if generally unsung) career as a foreign correspondent. Among other stories, he helped break the news about Joseph Stalin’s forced famine in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Barnes became the first American reporter to die covering World War II. In a period when the importance (and courage) of foreign correspondents is back in the spotlight, Perry has provided a service by highlighting Barnes’ work.
And now, a word of advice for all you journalists out there who like to call yourselves “storytellers:” Knock it off. A new survey concludes that readers are less likely to trust stories written by journalists who label themselves “storytellers” on their Twitter bios. One respondent wrote that a “storyteller to me sounds like a well-trained liar.” Sarah Scire of the Neiman Lab at Harvard had the story.
Finally this week, here’s an unexpected piece from The New York Times that I thought was the coolest thing I saw on the web this week. The paper’s “Close Read” series last week took a detailed look at a W.H. Auden poem, “Musée des Beaux Arts.” The 1938 poem examines suffering, that eternal subject, through the lens of a famous painting, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus.” The Times’ Elisa Gabbert and the paper’s crack team of interactive journalists use the resources of the web to examine the poem from a number of angles. For a poem that begins with the words “About suffering, they were never wrong, The Old Masters,” Gabbert’s piece is enlightening — and a surprising amount of fun.
And if you’re looking for fun this week in Corvallis and Albany, check out my curated and frequently updated list of arts and entertainment events. And we’re just about two weeks away from the Academy Award ceremony — and so I’ve renewed my annual Oscar contest, in which I invite readers to beat my performance in predicting all the Oscar winners. Click here to learn more about that — and what you could win by beating me.