I like to get criticism.... well, maybe "like" is not the right word. Let me rephrase. I learn from people pointing out things to me they notice and don't like. I can either decide to get upset when someone criticizes my work, or I can confront the issue like an adult by educating others or, and this is important, I can learn something from another's point of view.
I recently received a message from a reader who was very concerned about photos I've taken, published and spread through social media of people not wearing masks.
"I'm struggling with frustration at the lack of attention to the responsibility of mask-less events and activities found to be contributing to this community's viral spread. As a healthcare provider, I can't help but find the community photos depicting mask-less games horribly offensive. Everyone who has been tirelessly working all along to keep this virus at bay, risking our own and our loved one's health and safety everyday is pained when we see such irresponsible behavior at non essential activities."
This reader was very nice and just wanted to express their concern. They explained they feared my depicting these folks may be normalizing or giving acceptance to the practice of not wearing masks or social distancing.
I replied by explaining I am documenting life around me, and that is simply what is going on. Whether I was there making photographs or not the people were still at the events without masks. Documenting the activities is simply showing, good or bad, what is going on in the community. I try to make no judgements, I try to be fair and I try to be safe myself while documenting the events.
In other words, I wear a mask to be as safe as I can and to protect others in case I unknowingly contracted the virus myself. I know the risk. I accept the risk, but I take a lot of precautions.
I have posted columns and updates on COVID and really thought I was balancing my coverage. But I truly didn't think that the photos of people without masks I've taken could be taken as a means to "normalize this behavior and desensitize the public to the very real, powerfully negative impacts. It is possible that these photos make it seem like everything is ok and encourage others to behave in that manner," as reader pointed out.
I'm not sure how I can do what I do in covering the life of a community without documenting exactly how people are living. I guess, though I understand and even sympathize with this reader, I just cannot se how not covering something will change anything. Perhaps, by covering these events dialogues can be opened up if folks are bothered by what they are seeing. Again, even if I were not there, this would go on.
I offered this reader, and many others a chance to give their opinions, either through public comments or letters to the editor. I also invite many to write columns and believe we truly can be a place, at Eight & 322, for lively debate and discussion. Discussion is how we learn.
I extend this offer to everyone, I will listen and consider publishing letters and columns on the subject of masks or other COVID-19 related thoughts. Hell, on any topic really.
I explained to the reader that even though I offer this often to folks, many just won't engage in the conversation for one reason or another. On social media we've all seen why. Opinions are so divided on the subject that the threads often lead to name calling and then no one learns a thing.
I try to offer as many sides to a story as I can. I was up-dating the local COVID-19 numbers on a webpage here on my site(link below,) especially when they were rising and rising. Our area seemed spared for a long time from the high numbers, but not spared from the virus. In Venango County we recorded our first known case on March 29, 2020, almost a year ago. In the first six months we didn't even average a single case a day. Since October 1 we have had over 3,000 new cases and 83 deaths.
In recent weeks our daily numbers are once again down daily from what they were a few months ago, but what is not evident in those numbers is the positivity rate. In the area about one in every four people tested are coming back positive. That is a 25% positivity rate.
So the reader, who is a healthcare worker, has a point. The fact is, people are getting out and about without wearing masks, without social distancing and by doing so are putting themselves and others at risk. Including the athletes playing, though school's have protocols to follow to keep their students as safe as possible, even when teams are wearing masks they are not staying well in place.
As a journalist, I find myself checking what I believe with what I observe. I told this reader that I had a story early on in the pandemic where I indicated in my caption 'a mostly mask-less crowd.' I caught myself after I published this realizing by my saying 'a mostly mask-less crowd,' I was leading the discussion based on my beliefs instead of just observing life and letting the photograph just stand on its own.
It was after that moment I decided I needed an opinion section on this website where I could express my concerns and invite others to do so as well. I've reached out to many people to write columns or submit letters. So far, few have taken me up on this opportunity. I'd love to have folks, like this reader express these opinions and have them discussed civilly. It's the only way we get better as a community.
Anyone interested in commenting in anyway I'd love to hear from you. As you can see by my maked photo, I'm all ears (I've learned ear have few useful muscles when it comes to masks!)
Send letters, or columns to email@example.com about this or any topic really.
If you have a story to tell or an idea for a story please also send that along. Putting a neighbor's face on a story is perhaps the most powerful way to get a point across within a community. Hard to face a neighbor in the face at grocery store after telling them you don't care about their health on social media.
Below are several links to pieces done by Eight & 322 about the importance of mitigation efforts, but I'll leave this column with a very poignant part of this reader's message that I think is worth all of us reading and trying to absorb.
"I am longing for the breathe-easy days where I don't have to wear a mask throughout the whole work day and rethink every single motion...just in attempts to keep our patients and my own circle safe. I am tired of losing patients as a consequence of poor choices made by others."
Plus several stories about the pandemic since March 2020 can be found looking back at the Eight & 322 page in the menu above.
To see how the numbers have been please check out 8and322.weebly.com/crawford-and-venango-cases.html