Comeback Setback

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

We first talked about doing a South Bend issue some years ago. There was lots going on in the city and new bridges between campus and community — Eddy Street Commons, the Notre Dame Avenue re-do, upscale housing to the south and east of campus, any number of entrepreneurial ventures between the University and civic partners.

Last year — even before the mayor’s presidential run added some fun and vibrancy to the revitalization — we slated a South Bend “city issue” for summer 2020, in time for visitors coming for football and other back-to-school events. We brainstormed in January, refined
our list and made assignments to more than a dozen local writers while we locked into the spring issue.

We gave those writers an April deadline — to allow us time to collect, edit and tweak, do some writing ourselves, gather art and photography, layout pages, proofread, work through details, headlines and captions, adjust the jigsaw puzzle that each issue becomes, then fuss and grapple with surprises and snags . . . and get the issue to the printer by early June.

A quarterly publication has some real advantages. It also presents real challenges.

COVID-19 took its first American life in February, and the shutting down of workplaces loomed in the final weeks before we got the spring issue out the door. We were still reading proofs in mid-March when the sequestering began.

Like clockwork, though, the first stories for summer were arriving even as you received the spring issue at home. And we, not knowing the full extent of the stay-home order, kept working — remotely — on summer, thinking this was a temporary hiatus. The quarterly’s challenges didn’t hamper the magazine’s website, which enabled us to post daily stories on the coronavirus and its impact on campus, on students, alumni and others. We were moving on two fronts, putting together a summer issue to capture the dynamic interplay of Notre Dame, South Bend and the surrounding area while documenting pandemic decisions, reactions and experiences in real time.

The coronavirus was and remains a moving target; it presents so much fluid uncertainty that it defies capture in a quarterly. That and other factors — our timely coverage online, a reluctance to intrude into the lives of those on the front lines, readers with possible pandemic fatigue, the status of this special issue with purposeful timing — reinforced our decision to stay on course and offer little COVID-19 reporting in this print edition.

We proceeded — despite the social distancing — to pursue those stories that spoke of South Bend and its relationship with the University, the renewal taking place in the city and adjacent communities. As time passed, however, the “shelter in place” strategy was extended, then threatened to be more than an interruption in the area’s remarkable progress. Even at press time, as the state and nation move to reopen, it is unclear if the effects of the virus will be a temporary pause in the community’s ascendant arc or have long-term repercussions — at least for any number of businesses whose survival is at stake.   

As of this writing, we simply don’t know. We have plenty of reason to think that COVID-19 is a surmountable setback, that the strides made in recent decades and the partnerships forged will ensure future health and vitality. But life these days is abnormally unsettled; the times make planning a dubious exercise.

Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine