I’ve lost count of how many days I’ve been in lockdown. I began to self-isolate a few weeks before most, and I’ll be one of the last to come out of lockdown, regardless of whatever strategy the UK government settles on. I have a pre-existing condition that puts me squarely in the ‘vulnerable’ group should I catch Covid-19.
Very early in the pandemic – and following discussions with a member of my medical team – I quickly came to the conclusion that the only viable coronavirus strategy was not to catch coronavirus. Therefore, I’m in need of shielding until (hopefully) there is a working vaccine. So far, so good.
Other than having to rely solely on food deliveries and the fact that the main person I employ to help look after me has had to go into total lockdown with me (for which I’m eternally grateful), life has remained relatively normal. I don’t tend to go out as often as most people anyway, and throughout my career I’ve worked almost entirely from home.
Over the years, I’ve broken numerous stories in cities and countries I’ve never even set foot in. And along the way I’ve managed to build a contact book stuffed full of sources and gain the trust of people I’ve never met in person. The tools of my trade have always been virtual, and, as far as journalism goes, you could say I’ve been training for a pandemic all my life.
However, in other ways, my day job feels different from the past. Despite a backdrop of colleagues in the media losing their jobs or being furloughed, journalism as a vocation seems more meaningful than ever.
From being a simple conduit for important information to reach the tech industry or wider public, or shining a spotlight on a company or team genuinely doing something to support others during this crisis, to helping to understand the latest government scheme to protect jobs and businesses.
Then there’s reporting on job losses and the myriad of other challenges facing startups and those that work at them. This is one of the more human elements of tech reporting and requires a sensitivity that the last few years haven’t always prepared us for.
During the good times, when raising capital was relatively easy and the scrutiny of business models was sometimes indefinitely deferred in favour of ‘growth’, writing about a startup going bust or a founder getting into difficulty was at times tech journalism’s equivalent of a blood sport.
That’s not to say these stories are no longer valid - they most certainly are - but as they increase in number, I try to remember that behind every job loss or startup going into administration, real lives are being adversely affected.
With the public’s trust in journalism already waning, and with sadness all around us, it’s also important not to over ‘celebrate’ journalistic wins on social media.
My job isn’t to high-five the downfall of a venture-backed business or the failure of a self-unaware founder (as tempting as it can be). Instead, as it always has been, it is to try to seek out the truth – including embracing nuance when nuance exists and accepting that not every story is clearcut (except for the ones that are) – and ultimately hold power to account.
Or, as I like to say, don’t go chasing ambulances.