Editing News in China Amid the Novel Coronavirus Epidemic

For the vast majority of people in China, the novel coronavirus epidemic has meant a delay in getting back to normal – whether work or school – and even more time off.

But as China grapples with its War on the Epidemic (战疫情), news organizations in China have seen an explosion of news stories, which has left people like me – editors at these organizations – very, very busy, making for a most unusual winter and especially winter holiday.

The news doesn’t take a vacation, so of course we have always had people on duty during the holidays, and this year I was among them. We usually don’t see a lot of news at this time – maybe a handful of stories on a shift, if that — but of course you never know what stories might break, so you need someone available to edit whatever comes in.

Well, by the time the Chinese New Year vacation began, of course the novel coronavirus had already emerged as major news, particularly with the lockdown of the city of Wuhan just before Chinese New Year’s Eve. On Chinese New Year’s day, when I came in for my shift, I remained busy from the moment I booted up my computer, right up until minutes before I powered it off, editing a deluge of news. This became a harbinger of things to come.

After all, the spread of the epidemic demanded a swift response in an effort to control and contain it as much as possible. So that Chinese New Year vacation saw a flurry of changes from the norm – from extending holidays to postponing school dates and a variety of quarantine measures. The rise in cases required reports, while the public, facing this unknown threat, was hungry for any fact-based guidance and analysis that could help average people reduce their chance of getting infected.

Hence, lots and lots of stories. Record numbers of articles passing our desks — over 50 a day — at a time that normally would have been quiet on the news front.

At the same time, I’ve felt rather privileged to get a first look at so many breaking stories, allowing me to stay on top of critical developments through my actual work. While I haven’t stood anywhere close to the front line of this epidemic, instead safe in my community and the office just a 10-minute walk away, reading these stories about the novel coronavirus epidemic at my daily work has brought me closer to the outbreak and the people fighting the battle. I’ve edited profiles on front-line medics, seen photos of Wuhan amid the lockdown, and followed the latest in medicine in clinical trials and vaccine work.

It’s encouraging to see the number of infections in China on the decline. But authorities have still urged vigilance and cases have begun to surge in other countries around the world. So I expect the novel coronavirus epidemic will continue to keep our newsroom busy for a while longer yet.

Jocelyn Eikenburg
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