OPINION: Journalism in a Pandemic

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Leta Lohrmeyer
EDITOR IN CHIEF

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the journalism industry and affected journalists’ work. Graphic by Leta Lohrmeyer/The Gateway

One year ago, the Gateway published its special gender edition; the cover was beautifully-illustrated reflecting the well-crafted stories inside. What we didn’t know was that it would be the last print issue of the academic year.

On March 12, I took a commemorative photo on the steps of Arts and Science Hall with the then editor-in-chief (EIC) Kamrin Baker. We smiled, each holding a corner of the new gender issue, as she was metaphorically passing the EIC torch on to me. After the mini photoshoot, I went to class where we received the fateful email – an extended spring break, leading to no more in-person classes.

Kamrin and I met later that day to report the live-streamed student government meeting, we tried to provide answers in the endless uncertainty. As a journalism student, it’s alarming to see such newsworthy events happening in real-time. You have the pleasure and pressure of reporting everything that is going on.

The Gateway went completely virtual that day too. We still worked together to produce online content, but at the time I didn’t register that I wouldn’t see some of my colleagues again. No more production meetings, where we would laugh and chat together while eating donuts in the cramped newsroom. Everything was cut too short, another loss amongst others – big and small.

Like many people during the pandemic, I lost my retail job and moved back home. The next couple of months I tried to learn how to be an EIC a hundred miles away from UNO. It was scary, but I got used to the feeling of not knowing what I was doing. Because gradually and unconsciously, I figured things out.

Finally August came around, I got to meet the staff of folks that I would be working alongside the next few months. At first, we could social distance outside with camping chairs spread in a large circle, masked faces eye-smiling at each other, saying how nice it was to finally talk to people again. That’s how we produced a newspaper. But as the weather changed and cases increased we moved our meetings to the safest platforms – Zoom, email and Slack.

“This semester we are far apart, a lot of the communication is coming through Slack,” said Claire Redinger, the Gateway’s Digital Editor. “I miss having that interaction with other staff members, making memories in the newsroom.”

Senior Reporter Elle Love echoed this idea of lack of human connection.

“Being in-person and being online is vastly different. You have to pay more attention to your schedule and accommodate to your interview subject,” said Love. “Most of all it’s really isolating. I don’t get to go out and meet people in person. That’s what I love about journalism, all the interaction and telling people’s stories.”

Journalism looks a lot different. At first, there were endless questions that did not always have answers. How do you engage your team when you can only connect through screens? How do you interview subjects? What stories can we cover?

The events that you’d go out in the field that make journalism exciting disappeared this year. Instead of reporting the 2020 elections out at a watch party, I was spending quality time on my couch watching the live-stream with my cat.

“I’ve adapted to the crisis situations with reporting stories. There are so many channels to communicate with email, Slack, on the phone,” said Love. “Even though there are more communication channels available, the in-person communication is something I truly miss. Hopefully, once there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, we can get back to that interaction once again.”

The future of journalism is being impacted by what we are going through right now.

“I’ve heard a lot of newsrooms are splitting apart by going remote and putting more work on the individual journalist,” said Redinger. “Which is scary for my future as a journalist, just having a lot of responsibilities all on my shoulders.”

2020 showed us how necessary journalism is now and how it will change in the future. We’ve needed to stay informed and updated on what’s going on, as we are disconnected from the world. And the battle is not over yet.

But the main reason the Gateway is still producing content in a pandemic is because of all editors, contributors and staff members. They adapted and took advantage of a terrible situation, taking change in stride. To them, I want to say thank you.

-Leta Lohrmeyer

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