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  • Writer's pictureAnna Kaminski

End of an era and other assorted gloom

We received devastating news yesterday. Effectively immediately, Lonely Planet was curtailing its operations in London and Melbourne. The plan is continue producing guidebooks when this - the pandemic - is over, but from the Dublin office. Presumably the drastic action is being taken to ensure that LP survives the crisis.

Press release:

"Travel publisher Lonely Planet has announced it will close most of its operations in Melbourne and London as the company deals with the impacts of coronavirus on its sales.

Key points:

  • Lonely Planet will stop publishing its magazine and new 'inspirational' travel titles for the foreseeable future

  • The company says it will keep publishing guidebooks and phrasebooks

  • Lonely Planet says a sales drop linked to the coronavirus crisis is behind the changes

The company said it had made the "difficult decision to reduce its publishing operations for the foreseeable future".

And just like that, many people I've worked with over the past decade - editors, cartographers - have lost their jobs. In the middle of a pandemic. It's not the first time that there's been a restructuring, but this time it feels more final, because obviously the Melbourne office is where it all began. There had already been a 'changing of the guard' last year, with new editors being hired and LP moving its focus from London to Dublin and Melbourne, and now this.

My friends are distraught. I feel...mostly numb. It still hasn't quite sunk in. There are a lot of questions flying about. Will we - the writers - have work, come next year (because it's highly unlikely that the crisis will be wrapped up in the next few months)? We're all freelancers, and if there are guidebooks to be made still, then we will still be needed. Surely. Or should I be considering a change of career? Where else can I apply my rather niche skills?

The announcement came hot on the heels of a devastating blow to Britain's Jewish community, as The Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News have both gone into liquidation. The Jewish Chronicle has been the longest-running Jewish paper in the world, printed since 1871. Gone. Its editor, Stephen Pollard, is in quarantine, battling leukaemia, on top of losing his livelihood. All the staff have lost their jobs - on the first day of Passover, no less.

As the investigative reporter Carole Cadwalladr tweeted: "This is an extinction event for newspapers." It's estimated that a third of all journalists will lose their jobs. I'm looking to subscribe to as many publications as possible, because in the unpleasant, post-pandemic world, we'll need quality journalism more than ever. Worried about the survival of bookshops as well, particularly those wonderful, old-school establishments with dark, hidden nooks and that unique smell of decades-old manuscripts. Many don't have websites and during a great economic depression, people don't exactly splash money around. Have ordered a stack of books from Heffers to come and keep me company in Spain.

Bad things come in threes, don't they? Yesterday it felt like fours or even fives. I'm under the weather, with a scratchy throat, and general feeling of malaise. My sister's partner is being furloughed. So are several of my friends with office jobs. Hugely worried for friends of mine who stood in line for hours in Wisconsin a couple of days ago to vote in the primary because the Wisconsin Supreme Court - and SCOTUS - have both decided that voters should either risk their lives and vote or else be disenfranchised through no fault of their own, since the Democratic governor wanted to give voters the option of absentee ballots and was overruled, and thousands of ballots didn't arrive in time. It's a devastating attack on democracy in the United States and such a callous attitude towards people's lives.

Since I'm already plunged into gloom, I'm also deeply worried about some of my most vulnerable friends - my death row pen pals. I haven't heard from Marvin in Florida for three weeks now, and have no idea whether it's because the pandemic is sweeping through Union Correctional Institution and he's deathly ill (since he already has cancer and has had to have blood transfusions last year), or because the staff manning the email service are off sick, or unable to pass on our emails to one another because of contagion issues. Prisons provide an ideal environment for the spread of contagion and when the Spanish flu swept through, a century ago, it took out half of the inmates in San Quentin. My pen pals aren't in the first bloom of youth (or health) as it is. Hang in there, Paul, James, Little Melvin. I hope to hear back from you yet.

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