Q&A with Larry Holeva, executive editor at Times-Shamrock Communications

How Pa. news organizations are handling the COVID-19 pandemic

Continuing our conversations with newsroom leaders about how the coronavirus is affecting newsrooms, today’s installment is a conversation with Larry Holeva, the executive editor at Times-Shamrock Communications, overseeing The Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice, the Standard-Speaker, The Republican Herald and The Examiner, serving 10 counties in northeast Pennsylvania.

The Q&A below has been edited lightly for clarity:

Larry Holeva - Staff - The Times-Tribune

Larry Holeva is the executive editor at Times-Shamrock Communications, overseeing The Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice, the Standard-Speaker, the Republican Herald and The Examiner, serving 10 counties in northeast Pennsylvania.

PA Post: How has the pandemic changed your news coverage?

Holeva: We’ve transitioned all of our beat reporters to covering the coronavirus pandemic and have really taken it on as the single most important topic in coverage across our four newsrooms. When this first started, we launched a full coronavirus page that we publish every day in our four daily print publications. It is designed to be a “news you can use” resource — it started as a column of cancellations but has since developed into so much more.

We’re running stories about dealing with the mental health aspects of being locked down as well as the financial impacts of being out of work and resources for those in need.

[The pandemic] has taught me something about our coverage that I am trying to implement in all of our reporting. Because our region has such high rates of senior citizens and those living late in life, the concerns have been very high since we’re seeing so many issues with nursing homes across the state. I think we must work to cover the elderly population differently than we did pre-coronavirus.

Has Times-Shamrock done anything special for businesses in your community?

Outside of the content department, there has been a lot of focus on helping our advertisers and local businesses when the pandemic is over. Our advertising teams have been focused on developing plans and programs to try and help people reestablish their businesses. They’re taking a proactive approach to sales – you really need to be in front of it or you’ll be run over for it

Has the COVID-19 pandemic presented any significant challenges to your news coverage?

I think the biggest problem with our coverage right now is that because our reporters are all working from home, I don’t think we’re getting the same level of human drama in our stories. Even when you do finally reach someone, they don’t want any face-to-face contact, so we’re doing most of our reporting through document or telephone. I think something is lost in that translation.

Have you been able to work remotely?

I’ve elected to work in the office, and several of our top managers are doing the same. Our copy desks that design pages are also working in the office, but our content and advertising teams are all working from home. The building is quiet and we’re all wearing masks. We’ve relocated people to other parts of the building to ensure there is significant space for social distancing. The transition went very well for us – we were all up and running from home on a day’s notice.

What has the response from your community been to your news coverage?

Overall, it has been tremendous – our readership has increased significantly. Currently, the biggest concern in our region is the state of the economy. Right now, with the narrative being how the state is proceeding with reopening plans, there is a significant partisan split – either you are with Gov. Wolf or you’re not; there is no gray area. I’ve noticed just in terms of letters to the editor that there’s been a shift in the perception of our coverage based on those positions.

How do you feel the community has responded to COVID-19 itself?

There wasn’t any resistance within our communities from the very beginning. They were very quick to shut down, begin social distancing and wearing masks. Our greatest issues out of this part of the state have been in the Hazleton area where there is a large concentration of warehouses and meatpacking facilities. The numbers in Hazleton were exceptionally high; Luzerne County numbers were very high and that was primarily driven out of Hazleton. If you would remove the Hazleton and nursing home numbers from Luzerne county, there are very few cases.

What do you do to manage the stress personally and for your team?

Personally, I’ve been getting out on my bike at least three times a week – even when the weather has not been great. It helps me clear my mind and leave the news and office behind for a short period of time.

For my team, I’ve kept the communication going with my journalists and editors on a very consistent basis. Since they are working outside the building and at home, there is a lack of “face to face” interaction, but everyone seems like they’re handling the stress of the job and the virus and what it’s doing on their lives really well.

A few weeks ago, we were awarded as the Division II Sweepstakes winner in the Keystone Media Awards. It was fun to schedule a full staff Zoom meeting to share the news, to take a step back and appreciate some of the journalism that our team has done.

Interview conducted by Kate Landis.

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