News Items Note.

John Ellis
2 min readMar 23, 2020

I wrote this short note to News Items subscribers yesterday.

A number of subscribers have emailed to say that News Items is too “depressing” and that it should include more “positive news.”

I agree with that. I just can’t find much positive news at the moment.

What’s happening in the news business these days is unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. There have been huge stories before — the collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11, the Afghanistan/Iraq wars, the Great Financial Crisis (to name four) — that soaked up every available journalistic resource and pushed all other news off the radar.

But there have never been three huge news stories — the pandemic, the overnight cave-in of the global economy and a nail-biting financial crisis — all at once. If you’re the editor of the Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal or The Times of London, you throw every available resource at those three stories and worry about the rest of it later.

An example of how this works came last Wednesday. Joe Biden basically locked up the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination last Tuesday with wins over Bernie Sanders in Illinois, Missouri and Arizona. He was the top story on the Politico home page for about 7 minutes. Regularly scheduled programming (coronavirus, financial markets, businesses burning through lines of credit, etc.) resumed more or less immediately thereafter. Put another way, Joe Biden scaled one of the pinnacles of American politics and no one in the news business cared.

One of the things I’ve tried to do with News Items is bring to your attention news stories, research reports and analytical pieces that you might otherwise miss but that are interesting or important or both. The sources for this kind of information are far and wide; science journals, think tanks, blogs, technology sites, book reviews, Wall Street research reports, etcetera, etcetera.

What’s unusual about the present moment is that virtually all of those “far and wide” sources are focused on the same three subjects everyone else is focused on. There is no escaping the three-headed beast.

In the midst of the bad news, there is one story that will emerge as one of the great stories of our time. That story is the extraordinary and unprecedented team effort to find a “cure” for Covid-19 and/or a vaccine that renders it “manageable” if not moot.

Three things — the Internet, super-computing and Artificial Intelligence — have combined with a small army of brilliant scientists from nations in virtually every time zone to accelerate the process of experimentation and discovery to a level that would have been unthinkable ten or even five years ago.

What we are watching is an on-the-fly, all-hands-on-deck virological Manhattan Project. It is an amazing and heroic effort. It’s not getting the attention it deserves because the scientists involved don’t really have time to talk to reporters; they’re working around the clock and racing against the clock.

But their story is the story. And it’s not depressing. It’s thrilling.



John Ellis

Founder and Editor, News Items. Political analyst. Founder of and contributing editor to Bird News Items. Former columnist for The Boston Globe.