From moving entirely online to losing contributors, student publications are in a unique and defining moment in their histories
Student publications at universities across Canada have been given the difficult task of navigating a new world due to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. Student journalism plays an important role on campuses all across the country and can often be the first ones to break scandals and issues regarding their schools…
However, coupled between the restrictions implemented as a result of COVID-19 and the push to remote learning, various editorial staffs have had to shift gears and discover new ways to push out and promote content, and even conduct something as simple as staff meetings.
“We’ve moved entirely online,” said Kristy Koehler, the editor-in-chief of the Gauntlet, the University of Calgary’s student newspaper.
“We had to come up with a Slack channel to engage volunteers and actually, it’s been working out quite well, we actually have more active volunteers now than we’ve ever had,” said Koehler.
Koehler explained that the Gauntlet editorial staff has been running virtual office hours and volunteer orientations over Zoom. They also have a volunteer coordinator who regularly holds volunteer information sessions on Zoom. The publication allows volunteers to get credit hours for editing work online.
“We’ve just sort of flipped our whole editing process into a digital one, come up with a set of editing standards for the digital world.”
In comparison the Muse, Newfoundland’s Memorial University student newspaper, has seen a decrease in both volunteers and editorial staff members.
“We haven’t had any volunteers at all,” said Marium Nawal Oishee, the editor-in-chief of the Muse.
Nawal Oishee believes that due to the lack of events and promotions on campus, volunteering numbers have plummeted dramatically.
“The one thing that we have right now is an online posting to our student volunteer bureau, but the catch with that is, you need to be subscribed to that list, or you need to be actively seeking out those opportunities,” she said.
Unlike either of the aforementioned publications, the Dalhousie Gazette has not seen a major increase or decrease in volunteers, with their numbers staying relatively the same due to a pay policy they implemented last year.
“The only change is that we’re having regular contributor meetings online to just try and reach out to students as much as we can,” said Tarini Fernando, the editor-in-chief.
The Dalhousie Gazette has also implemented an online engagement editor, who is also tasked with sending professors at the university emails to post notices to their classes about the newspaper.
“I’m very impressed and happy that there are several people who are still writing for us,” said Fernando.
Editorial staff and content
Despite an overwhelming amount of course work that many students are experiencing, the Gauntlet is pushing out more content than ever before, partly due to the influx in their volunteer numbers.
“I think it’s … just the nature of the situation, it has interested people in joining us and wanting to be a part of documenting [the pandemic],” she said.
The Gauntlet has an editorial staff of eight, all of which are based in Alberta; Koehler said that staff meetings over Zoom have been going smoothly.
However, Nawal Oishee has staff members from both Newfoundland and internationally, which has made finding an appropriate time for meetings difficult.
“We had actually lost a couple of team members, only because they’re not as enthusiastic or as comfortable being online,” she said.
As a result, the Muse is facing difficulties when it comes to pushing out content and making sure staff members are enthusiastic and passionate about the work they are doing.
The Dalhousie Gazette has an editorial staff of six, and while there have not been issues surrounding scheduling calls, Fernando said the feelings and energy surrounding the conversations are different due to the nature of being online.
“I’m very impressed and proud of my staff for working so hard,” said Fernando.
She has also been making sure to make more of an effort in communication and creating relationships with her editorial staff due to the circumstances.
“I don’t want them to feel like they’re not connected to the group. But I do feel the disconnect because our business manager is in India right now and the person farthest west is in Alberta.”
However, the distance proves difficult when it comes to making sure individuals outside of the Dalhousie and Halifax community remain localized and remember they are reporting on what is going on there.
Print is dead
The Gauntlet, the Muse and the Dalhousie Gazette have all stopped the circulation of their physical newspapers and moved entirely online due to the pandemic.
“Printing physical copies is a big part of what we are as a paper, but currently we are not printing,” said Fernando.
The Dalhousie Gazette has since begun to publish bi-weekly online PDF versions of their paper and Fernando said this has helped alleviate a lot of stress surrounding the new transition online, due to the leniency.
“I can put a little less pressure on my editors and our contributors to get content out as quickly or in a high amount as we usually do,” said Fernando. “I’m still very proud of the content we are putting out.”
The Muse saw an uptick in their social media following and engagement last year, but with the coming of the winter semester saw their online presence “flatlining.”
“We weren’t able to provide [followers] with good material, or engaging content to actually want to stay engaged,” said Nawal Oishee.
However, while the quality of the reporting has not gone down for the Gauntlet, Koehler has seen that it is more difficult to edit in a timely manner and obtain photographs to accompany stories.
Fernando voiced a similar sentiment, feeling as though it takes more time to push content and stories out than in previous years.
One area that Koehler wants to improve on is the timeliness of the articles her staff is posting.
“We would have some more stringent office hours, I think, where we’re all doing editing together at a certain time and I think that’s something that will be vital in the winter,” she said.
Nawal Oishee is focusing on bringing in more volunteers for the Muse, as well as adjusting more towards an online environment.
“We’re doing a constitutional amendment right now to include a position for a social media coordinator. Everything is probably going to be online for the foreseeable future [so] we really need someone to actively help the editorial boards and social media.”
Fernando voiced a similar sentiment about the goals the Dalhousie Gazette’s team is looking towards.
“We’re really just trying to figure out how we can expand our online presence because that is the only way we can expand our presence in any way,” said Fernando.
Despite the hardships and obstacles that they are facing, student publications are producing news in an important time.
“I think it’s cool that we all kind of get to be a part of history in some way,” said Koehler.
—With files from Charley Dutil