When the year began journalists knew it would be a crazy year. Some 30 presidential candidates were vying for the Democratic nomination and the biggest question was, who was best suited to take on the incumbent president, Donald Trump. While former Vice President Joe Biden was the early favorite, critics, including some in the media, deemed him too old, too prone to malapropisms and yes, even "too sleepy." But that was before COVID-19 hit, pushing what was the presumptive biggest story of the year into a backdrop for the story of a lifetime: a worldwide pandemic that has killed more than 1.6 million people including some 320,000 Americans.

The challenge for journalists has been getting close to the pandemic story, without getting too close. As Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times said, it’s easier to get embedded with the U.S. military to cover the front lines than to embed with frontline doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19.

He watched and videotaped up close in two Bronx hospitals as teams of medical personnel rushed around shuffling gurneys and calling for ventilators. At the same time the president of the United States was downplaying the virus, saying it was “like the flu” and would be “down to zero” in a few days.

That was March. Despite dire warnings from the media, daily live press briefings from governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and Massachusett's Charlie Baker, millions of Americans were convinced the disease was a hoax, or not that serious. The federal government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, became a peripatetic presence on TV and radio, even calling in to sports programs, anything to get the message out.

The press followed suit, turning its attention to where the disease came from, how it spread, and how it could be controlled. Reporters and anchors took to wearing masks on camera, sitting 10 feet apart in studios, often doing reports from home offices. CNN host Christ Cuomo, brother of the governor, contracted COVID-19 and reported on it nightly from the basement of his home.

Just as warm weather settled in, and along with that hopes that the virus might fade, police in Minneapolis put a stranglehold on a 46-year-old man during an investigation into a suspected counterfeit $20. Officer Derek Chauvin pinned George Floyd to the ground with his knee on his neck for close to 9 minutes. Pleading for his life, calling for his mother, George Floyd died, reigniting a movement that had faded in recent years.

Black Lives Matter re-emerged, and with it, a vow that nothing would ever be the same for how Black people are treated by businesses, corporations, the government, and the media. For the press, it was instantaneous. When violence and looting broke out in major cities across America, the media was quick to focus instead on the mission and the message of the protests, rather than the shops and businesses that were destroyed.

We also saw a racial reckoning inside America’s newsrooms where, as onetime Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery said, white voices were considered “objective” while Black perspectives were marginalized.

When The New York Times printed an op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton calling for the use of military force to dispel protestors, Times reporters pushed back. Several tweeted messages like “Running this put Black @nytimes staff in danger.”

It cost editorial page editor James Bennett his job. But he wasn’t the only casualty. Conservative Times columnist Bari Weiss, who supported running the op-ed, quit, saying that while “Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times… Twitter has become its ultimate editor.”

The Boston Globe, too, made substantive changes. On nothing short of a daily basis, the Globe began running stories of regular Black people affected by COVID-19, hit hard by evictions or food shortages, but they also found success stories in new minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs who discovered opportunity out of need. The paper also gave elevated prominence to Black columnists like Renée Graham and Jeneé Osterheldt, who regularly appears on the front page with "A Beautiful Resistance," a series designed to "amplify the truths of Black folk and other people of color ... through the lens of love."

But where some saw renewed awareness, others saw growing intolerance. In July, fifty well-known writers signed an open letter to Harper’s magazine, lamenting cancel culture and the stifling of opposing voices. There was push back, from progressive and Black reporters, and at least one transgender writer who said that after her Vox colleague Matt Yglesias signed the letter, she felt less “safe.”

Successful big-name writers like Matt Taibbi and Andrew Sullivan abandoned their mainstream posts, flocking to the platform Substack, where writers like Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald proclaim, there is no “censorship.”

Which leads us back to the election. President Trump was relentless in demonizing the “fake” news media. His first one-on-one debate appearance with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was nothing short of bizarre, forcing the Commission on Presidential Debates to change the rules. Trump refused to participate in the second debate, setting up a night of dueling town halls, with Trump on NBC and Biden on ABC. The night’s winner ended up being NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie for her fiercely pointed questions to the president.

On election night, the president believed his onetime ally Fox News betrayed him by being the first to call Arizona for Biden. That prompted Trump to begin touting other conservative news outlets like Newsmax and the One America News Network. And as the days and weeks crept on, the president’s media sycophants refused to acknowledge what was plainly evident, that Joe Biden was the president-elect. Now, the biggest dilemma for the mainstream press going forward is, how much voice to give a former president who refuses to go away.