“In these uncertain/unprecedented times.”
“Now more than ever.”
“We’re all in this together.”
These are the refrains of our new reality. Zoom is how we hold meetings with colleagues and happy hour with friends.
We are online with students, communicating fleetingly with video conferencing tools but mostly by email.
Facebook and social media have become the go-to for family updates and connections. Memes are how we cope and find humor in “this thing of ours.”
These are indeed unprecedented times.
Here at the Horizon student newspaper, the decision to go online was always in the conversation, but COVID-19 made us voice it out loud and adapt to actually doing it… like, RIGHT NOW.
Feeling like the Whos in “Horton Hears a Who!” we are raising our collective voice to let you know: “We are here… we are here … WE ARE HEEERE!”
As advisor to the Horizon since January 2013, I have seen many changes and we seem to have weathered them all, so far.
We went from a nice, fat student services budget allotment, to seeing it dwindle to bare bones in the last couple of years – barely enough to stay in print and be able to pay the hard-working editors a modest stipend.
In an age of digital news delivery, we have fought to retain the tangible, hand-distributed print newspaper on campus. We are among the few, but many are the reasons.
Little compares to the excitement of the student reporters seeing their bylines, photos, and stories in print. Or the pride of students, faculty, and staff who see their projects and accomplishments in our pages. There’s the learning curve of fitting stories and photos – not too many, not too few. Even the stress of hitting a deadline with Lynden Tribune Print Co. is worth its weight in newsprint.
We are also here to take the pulse of each passing generation’s concerns and interests, and to record the many and diverse voices of our campus.
On March 11, I attended an all-faculty “what do we do now?” meeting and, on March 12, I never saw my students in person again.
This broke my heart because I have strong connections with all of my students, both in the Horizon and in Journalism 210: Writing for Mass Media. How would we finish the quarter when we were not allowed back in the newsroom? In the end, we would not print our last issue of winter quarter. The students wrote stories that immediately became moot and would not be read.
Winter quarter whimpered to a halt and when spring quarter began, we had a whole new normal.
Thanks to help from other journalism advisors in the Pacific Northwest Association of Journalism Educators, tips and training sessions from my colleagues here at Whatcom, and support from our administration, we responded.
Apple Parry, editor in chief for the past four quarters, agreed not to take time off from school as so many have (whew!). As the only veteran of the newsroom operation, she rallied the troops on a group text chat and is editing live on Google docs.
We started a virtual newsroom using Trello’s project management system. It’s great for communicating story ideas and sharing feedback in conversations on lists and cards. We email a lot, and then I Zoom with the staff as a whole once a week to see if they need any advice.
Most of the new staff had taken my writing class, so they already knew me. Luckily, this would not be their first impression of me because I feel like I’m in a leaky boat on the ocean with this online thing.
In the 1960s, The Washington Post’s Philip Graham uttered the oft-attributed line: “Journalism is the first rough draft of history.” Well, the Horizon is the first rough draft of our community, and the rough draft of an excellent learning opportunity for our students.
The Horizon was born out of an independent learning project of students eager to share a newspaper with fellow students in 1977. The first issue – completely student-produced – was deemed a success. The following year, Whatcom added a journalism class and a newspaper class to the catalog.
It’s our history and our legacy. Our filing cabinets are full of archives of the past. It’s a repository of memories and a chronicle of four decades at Whatcom.
Enrollment has always been low – about half a dozen or so in lean times to 12 or more in good. Some come for one quarter, others stay many. At times there are more editors than reporters, but the paper has been produced – fall, winter and spring – every two weeks to this day.
When a student signs up for the Horizon, they may or may not have experience in the news business, but their drive and willingness to learn a skill that is being derided almost daily amazes me and fills me with great pride.
In these unprecedented times…
We are here…