Davies: Year in review COVID edition

What a wild, crazy, absolutely bonkers year 2020 has been. Certifiably nuts. After mass flooding in 2017, a tornado in 2018, more mass flooding in 2019, some bold West Carletonite must have tempted the fates by asking ‘is that the best you got?’

Column header for publisher Jake Davies' column indubitably.

We have faced a lot in West Carleton in the latter half of the 2010s. It has tested are mettle, our resilience, our spirit and our community. We have risen to the challenge each time and I just have to take a look at the thousands of stories West Carleton Online published over the calendar year to see countless examples of West Carleton residents doing just that.

It’s tragic and heartwarming at the exact same time. The Germans probably have a word for whatever covers that sentiment.

This year West Carleton, and the entire globe, is facing the biggest challenge of this generation. The global COVID-19 pandemic has touched every single human on planet earth in one way or another. Either through their health, economy, family or community.

The pandemic has created so much uncertainty in the future of many West Carleton institutions and businesses. Nobody has any clue what will happen next. I mean, how could you?

What is amazing about these times in relation to the media business, the first global pandemic to hit our planet for generations, is how boring it is to cover.

I work from home more than ever. No longer able to put a few hours in at my favourite ‘mobile offices’ in Carp and Constance Bay. Almost everything fun in West Carleton was cancelled. My favourites such as Fitzroy’s July concert series, the Diefenbooker Race, the Constance Bay Dragon Boat Festival, Harbour Days, Christmas markets, Men’s Night, Ladies Night, drive-in bingo, obviously the Carp Fair, graduation, the Carp Farmers’ Market, euchre, Canada Day, the tonne of one-time events and fundraisers held in the community each year did not happen (although I think I covered a record number of parades in 2020). These are the fun things to cover.

The pandemic doesn’t bring the visuals of extreme flooding or tornados. You can’t take a photo that encompasses the coronavirus and the havoc it has wreaked on West Carleton. I can’t remember a story that didn’t involve me asking the interview subject how COVID-19 has affected them.

While the pandemic is West Carleton’s most tragic story of 2020, it has done what all tragedies seem to do in the journalism world – it has shone a spotlight on the power of community. It doesn’t even surprise me anymore. The number of stories West Carleton Online has published focusing on the good that has led us through the pandemic easily overshadows the bad.

As is our tradition, we will now present the Top 10 West Carleton Online stories of 2020 as chosen by you. At this point, I haven’t looked at the stats. But I can hazard a guess the Top 10 will be dominated by COVID-19 stories. That is for two reasons. One, obviously, the pandemic has dominated headlines for almost the entire year. But two, West Carleton Online has made all its COVID-19 coverage free access as a community policy service. Of course, that means they are more well read by the public. But fear not, the publisher will also print a small list of some of his favourite stories from the past year as well.

But first, some year-end stats to provide some perspective. In 2020, not including the few remaining hours between 2:30 p.m. and midnight, West Carleton Online had nearly a quarter of a million pageviews (223,165). Over the last year we had 74,223 visitors (that number includes repeat visitors). Those users enjoyed 135,163 sessions (hey advertisers, the new media works). We peaked on Monday, June 8 when 2,025 users visited our site in a single day – let’s find out what we published that day below.

West Carleton Online’s 2020 Top 10 stories

We now proudly present to you the Top 10 stories of 2020 as chosen by our readers. I’m as excited as you to find out what they are.

Chinese Valley victim during COVID-19 (published June 8, pageviews: 2,309): The Chinese Valley restaurant and take-out had been around Carp for a long time. While it closed during the early months of the pandemic, the pandemic was never blamed as the cause. The story was short because we couldn’t reach the owners, but we did speak with Alice’s Village Café that same day to see how they were doing.

Mid-air crash sinks plane in Ottawa River (published June 15, pageviews: 2,200): It was a catastrophe that avoided tragedy. Two planes collided above Buckham’s Bay with one plane spiraling in to the bay below. There were only minor injuries, with community members rushing to the rescue of the pilot. As a grizzled editor that was a front page photo we could get behind.

Visits suspended at Arnprior hospital due to respiratory illness outbreak (published Jan. 8, pageviews: 1,257): Believe it or not, this was not a COVID-19 story. COVID-19 hadn’t made it to Canada yet, and was just starting to appear as a one column story deep inside the news sections of Canada’s national papers. But it was a harbinger of what 2020 would hold only two months later. We think this story made the list primarily  because of all our Arnprior friends who visit the site regularly – we focus on West Carleton but we cover our neighbours too.

Brush fire threatens Carp-area homes (published May 7, pageviews: 1,166): Fire ban gets lifted and fires get started. On May 6 a brush fire broke out near Hidden Lake Crescent. Being part of the ‘new media’ (read: online) West Carleton Online is able to have a story like this posted less than 24-hours after it happened. Sometimes we are even faster like in the case of the Number Two 2020 story where we went to the crash site, interviewed several people, obtained a photo and published an attributed story just a few hours after the collision. This is something a traditional community newspaper will never be able to do.

Tripps celebrate 73 years amid COVID-19 (published May 20, pageviews: 964): Our first straight ‘good news’ story of our Top 10. Amidst the tragedy and death during the early days of pandemic reporting, especially at our long term care homes, comes this sweet love story 73 years in the making. Of course Mervyn, Emily and the rest of the Tripp family wasn’t going to let a global pandemic halt the latest chapter of a three-quarters of a century long love story. West Carleton Online also attended the actual event held a week after the original story – one of several aforementioned parades we attended over the year.

Online school no option for WC parents (published Aug. 17, pageviews 927): Without experienced community journalism focused on Canada’s news deserts, which roughly translates to ‘the rural areas,’ these issues of major importance are often missed or skipped by the urban-focused media, which is just about every other outlet. When school was cancelled due to the pandemic, the solution was easy, right? Just learn online. Well, for rural residents, even 15 minutes west of Kanata, Internet access prevented many from that option, forcing several parents to send their kids to school whether they wanted to or not. We were the only media outlet in the Ottawa area to cover that story, until the CBC copied our story two weeks later even interviewing the same subjects.

Carp Santa parade a stationary go (published Oct. 29, pageviews: 872): This was the type of pandemic news people needed. A huge, safe event was going to go ahead in the age of COVID-19. That was not the way things had been happening this year. In a year of cancelled events, someone found a way to bring people together this holiday season. The sharp minds of the Huntley Community Association and Carp Agricultural Society came up with a completely original idea to host a safe Santa Claus parade. What about if the crowds did the moving and the parade stood still? It was an idea that was a hit with all of west Ottawa as the long traffic lines on all three roads leading to Carp attested to. And not one single case of COVID-19 was attributed to the static parade.

Lightening strike causes 25-acre crop fire (published July 31, pageviews: 867): It was my birthday and I was less than a kilometre away when the lightening bolt struck, sparking the field fire. I was right next door, playing golf at the Madawaska Golf Club. I heard the crack, I saw the smoke, and I didn’t have my camera (which is of course, the first rule of photography). That is without a doubt the closest I have ever been to a breaking story as it happened.

Golf cart Dave passes away at 59 (published Nov. 10, pageviews: 793): ‘Golf Cart’ Dave Creighton was a legend and a legendary volunteer in Carp. He helped out everywhere, all the time. Even people who didn’t know Creighton personally knew exactly who we were talking about courtesy his nickname. You can call him crazy, just don’t call him stupid.

Carp Fair President talks tough decision (published June 17, pageviews: 783): Probably the biggest announcement and the most crushing West Carleton news of 2020 was the Carp Fair cancelling due to the pandemic. For 2020 Carp Fair presidents Patricia Boyd and Sean Foley, who spent about 13 years working on becoming the 2020 presidents, it meant during their tenure, they would not be hosting the Carp Agricultural Society’s and West Carleton’s marquee event. Boyd spoke to us about what that was like.

West Carleton Online’s favourite five stories of 2020

It’s hard to boil down our Top Five stories from a whole year of publishing. Some of them are already in the Top 10. So, it’s more accurate to say here’s a list of stories we really liked for one reason or another. But that headline just does not get the clicks as we say in the online news business.

Gibson movie films in Carp: Whatever you think of Mel Gibson as a person, he is a huge movie star, especially during the ‘80s and ‘90s. We were at the Diefenbunker for a funding announcement and accidentally found ourselves on the set of a Christmas action movie. We even recognized actor Walton Goggins. It was just kind-of fun to be a part of Hollywood magic as Gibson makes the return to acting in Christmas movies (see: Lethal Weapon. Don’t @ us). The fact this story took place roughly two weeks before all heck broke loose due to the coronavirus, probably influenced our decision. Those were the good old days.

WC nurse asks for homemade scrub caps: Nurse Tracey Zoobkoff who works at the Queensway Carleton Hospital mother baby unit contacted us about a desperate need for scrub caps. It was early in the pandemic (April 6) when personal protection equipment supply chains were failing. What we loved about this story is how it turned out. Zoobkoff was flooded with scrub caps homemade by the West Carleton community. These stories are what community journalism can do.

Hudson corn is here: Only in rural community journalism do you write stories about corn. Hudson’s legendary sweet corn is a news story every summer and a minimalist headline is all you need. Everyone knows what it’s about.

Kinburn PSW worker says agencies compromising client safety: In the news business, breaking stories is our cocaine. There’s definitely a rush and that’s why this story is here. Thanks to personal support worker Patrick Garbutt who tipped us off to the gaps in strategies protecting long term care workers and residents. At the time PSWs were known to travel to many locations during the course of their day. Many agencies were giving differing advice on personal protection equipment needed by the PSWs. A week following our story several other media outlets followed suit. A week or so after that, the Government of Ontario changed the rules governing PSW work during the pandemic.

Doc to examine ’89 Corkery alien landing: That headline says it all. A weird story that rose to international fame and even a segment in a 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries. Aliens, government deception, mysterious packages in the mail and a person known only as Guardian. This script is more bizarre than that Mel Gibson Christmas action movie.

West Carleton Online wants to thank all our subscribers and advertisers. We live in strange times and I work in what is known as a dying industry. We already saw the death of West Carleton’s fourth newspaper earlier this year. As we enter our fourth year, West Carleton Online is as focused as ever in providing a new way to enjoy locally produced community journalism with stories that adhere to the old styles of community journalism writing. We have not grown as much as we had hoped we would at this point in time, but we are thankful our support has allowed us to sustain during these very strange times. Thank you. If you haven’t already, and you want community journalism to continue in West Carleton, consider subscribing to West Carleton Online for only $50 a year. https://westcarletononline.com/membership-join/