Newsrooms have a long, not always proud tradition of gallows humor. The jokes and stories that get passed around are rarely the kind of things we’d publish, especially when the people telling the stories have been in the business for a while.

One of the tame stories was from a former publisher who was, briefly, the suspect in a murder case. Authorities knew the victim’s body had been buried in a nearby nature reserve, and many killers will revisit locations like that. So investigators were monitoring the site.

Police noticed when he started showing up, routinely, near where the body was found. He never noticed them, and a brief investigation showed he wasn’t connected to the case. After an arrest was made an investigator asked him what he was doing out there. It turns out the location was a good place to practice bird calls, which he was trying to learn.

Gallows humor has been getting a workout this past week. I’m sure it has been in a lot more places than just newsrooms. That’s what happens when you know the worst of a bad situation is yet to come.

The speed with which people have reacted over the past couple weeks is remarkable. It’s due to the fact medical professionals had a clear, understandable message and to people listening to that message. We don’t yet know whether the actions came soon enough to really blunt this pandemic, but most people are doing what they can.

Still, life doesn’t stop. Earlier this week we ran what we hope will be the first in a series of columns from Dr., Lorie Hickie, a veterinarian who moved back to Ottumwa in 2008. We know how much pets mean to Ottumwans. Pet stories and lottery winners always get a lot of traffic online. You don’t work in our newsroom long before hearing veterans talk about how our website would probably crash if an area dog ever wins the lottery.

Hickie knows what she’s talking about. She graduated from the Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2004. She was born and raised in Ottumwa, and lives here now with her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Amber.

Why debut something like this now? There are two fundamental reasons. One is that, frankly, we all need a break. Just writing about a subject other than this pandemic is a relief at times, and we’re sure people want to read about other things as well. And information about taking care of our pets accomplishes that quite nicely.

The other is that we’re still working on long-term goals. There will be a time when this crisis is over. There will be a time when we have to figure out what comes next. There will be a lot of work to do to get back to anything resembling what we think of as normal life. But that day will come, and this lays a little bit of a foundation for it.

We’re glad to have Hickie on board as a monthly writer. And the reason goes back to some of the issues I touched on earlier. There’s a significant value to the community in having people with expertise being able to speak authoritatively on those subjects. In newspaper, it’s often our job to find those people and then get out of their way.

That has been our goal over the past couple weeks. No one in our newsroom is an expert on virology or medicine. We’ve depended on those who are, and have tried to bring you their messages as clearly as possible. All I will add is one of my own:

Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay kind.

— Matt Milner can be reached at and followed on Twitter @mwmilner

Managing Editor

Matt Milner currently serves as the Courier's Managing Editor. Milner is a trained weather spotter and is usually outside if there are storms. He joined the Courier in 2002.

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