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Coronavirus brings quiet to The S-R newsroom: Plants, vending machines, supplies left behind as journalists work from home

UPDATED: Mon., April 20, 2020

Since adopting social distancing and remote working measures, the coronavirus has led to COVID-19 quietness in workplaces across downtown Spokane.

Unfortunately, we can’t go into those buildings and note the changes because of quarantine orders. And we’re not even really supposed to be in ours despite being deemed essential as media. Still, that won’t keep us from reminiscing about the things in The Spokesman-Review building that have been left behind to be missed or forgotten in the age of the coronavirus.


As referenced in Jody Zellman’s special “Earth to Planet” comic strip here, the plants that dot different points of the newsroom have definitely seen better days. The now-drooping greenery has pretty much been the only organic companion of the lonely desks for the past month, save for the occasional copy editor or saint who waters them every so often.

Newspaper stand fish tank

Behind the receptionist desk sits a converted The Spokesman-Review newspaper dispenser that’s now home to more fish than breaking news. The last fish tank residents made a timely exit before the coronavirus hit. Today, a thick foam sits at the top of the water and probably calls for a cleaning before any more fish can be introduced as tenants.

Vending machines

The prized fighters of the lunchroom retreat, the trio of vending machines in the seventh-floor cafeteria are still being valiantly stocked for all of the staff who might or might not be present. On a late Wednesday night shift, David Gonzales, who’s been on the Spokesman janitorial team for 21 years, obliges and buys a bag of chips from one of the machines. “There’s nobody here, so everything stays clean,” Gonzales said. “It’s like there’s no atmosphere here. It’s like a ghost town.”

Radioactive fridge contents

The one exception to Gonzales’ remark about things staying clean might be the staff refrigerator. Led by newsroom manager Mary Beth Donelan and photo editor Liz Kishimoto, the extended absence (and subsequent aroma) called for a deep cleansing. “A lot of science experiments had started,” said Donelan of the inside of the fridge. “We dumped everything we possibly could that looked very gross. Items that looked like they were nice containers, we actually dumped the food and washed the containers. I have them sitting on the table for when people come back.”

Embracing the darkness

With social distancing limitations, the evening copy editors tend to only have one person working in the newsroom at a time. Maybe two. That relative isolation means it isn’t uncommon to find the sole copy editor working in total darkness with all of the newsroom lights off.

Hot Tamales candy machine

One of the most popular in-house snacks in the newsroom, the Hot Tamales candies have seen an unsurprising decrease in popularity. Instead, that attention has redirected itself to the courtesy Purell pump stand that sits across from the candy dispenser.

Endlessly blinking phones

The closest equivalent to a Hitchcock-ian scene in a modern newsroom, the newsroom desk phones feature blinking red voicemail buttons that pierce through the pitch-black newsroom. And there are a lot. Bonus points go to the eerie police scanner that murmurs static and cuts through the silence to tie the whole atmosphere together.

Untouched supply cabinet

The pens, pencils and wealth of shared office supplies haven’t exactly been in high demand. Stacks of Xerox sheets, notebooks, binders and notepads have comfortably stayed in reserve for roughly the past month.

Buzz of the newsroom

“It’s a very strange feeling going in there,” Donelan said. “Where I sit, I hear everything in my office. I can hear the copy desk talk about stories they’re working on, the reporters working on stories, so I miss hearing the conversations. I have no idea what people are working on until I read the paper the next day. That’s definitely something I miss.”

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