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Students covering virus receive crash course in real world journalism

Students covering virus receive crash course in real world journalism

reporter photo

STORRS — Sunday nights are when editors for The Daily Campus, the independent student-run newspaper at the University of Connecticut, gather and discuss the student newspaper's plans for news coverage in the upcoming week. 

Lately, those meetings have not been in-person. Nor have they been held within the paper's building on Storrs Road. They've been online with video conferences through Google Hangouts, explained the paper's digital editor Courtney Gavitt.

Gavitt, a UConn junior from Cheshire, said her main job as digital editor is to ensure The Daily Campus website is updated. She oversees a group of eight students, many of them digital producers, to make sure articles are read through and correctly formatted before they're published. 

“We're continuing to publish every day online,” Gavitt said. 

And so The Daily Campus staff have continued documenting daily life, disrupted by the global COVID-19 outbreak, in Storrs and beyond.

Student journalists like Gavitt are “spread out” distance-wise as they adjust to remote learning and other changes in their campus lives. They've had to quickly adjust to the newfound situation to continue reporting on it. 

Monday should have been the day students and professors returned to class from spring break to finish out the last half of the spring semester before final exams and graduation.

Instead, the campus is largely shut down. A few dining halls and some on-campus student housing remain open. Students and staff have reconvened remotely in online classrooms — away from their campuses — instead of more familiar lecture halls, classrooms, labs and dorms.

“We're in uncharted territory,” said Anna Zarra Aldrich, a UConn senior and editor-in-chief of The Daily Campus.

Zarra Aldrich, who hails from Wallingford, said the editorial staff had originally decided to publish online only for two weeks after spring break. Now that online-only operation will continue through the remainder of the semester.

“We're still figuring out how is this going to work? What is our workload going to look like?” Zarra Aldrich said.

“We're going to continue to provide service to the UConn community,” she said, adding there are still plenty of questions to be answered, regarding classes, internships, student teaching and more.  

In fact, one of The Daily Campus' latest online articles details a university decision to extend its previous limitations on its pass/fail course grading options. Normally students must select that option within the first two weeks of a given semester. This spring, they have until the last day of the semester to decide, reported Conner Caridad, a Daily Campus correspondent. 

Coverage of UConn's sports teams has halted.

Michael Stanton, a journalism professor at Uconn, described the current situation as “a brave new world.” He described the COVID-19 outbreak as “the biggest story in our lifetime.”

“It's something we're going to remember... (students) are getting a real life crash course in journalism,” Stanton said. “In times of crisis journalism matters more than ever.”

“The students today have the tools, they're digital natives,” Stanton said. “Hopefully it will help them keep connected.”

Instructors like Stanton are also adjusting to their new remote teaching realities. Staff at The Daily Campus and other campus publications are not just reporters covering the evolving situation.  

“They are students living it. For seniors it's an experience they weren't expecting,” Stanton said, noting the cancellation of commencement in May.

Student-journalists at other universities, including Central Connecticut State University and Quinnipiac University, are navigating similar challenges. 

Both the Quinnipiac Chronicle and Q30, the student-run newspapers and television channel at Quinnipiac, continue to churn out news updates. 

Brooke Reilly, Q30's news director, said moving forward the station's focus is going to be online content, rather than the live shows it has typically recorded every week. A small group of the station's staff recorded what may be the staff's final on-campus broadcast last week. Now the station's staff is going to work remotely. 

“It's definitely going to be different,” Reilly said, adding, “Our plan moving forward is putting out a lot of web content.”

Stephen MacLeod, news editor for The Chronicle, explained that news organization is similarly focused. 

“We're student journalists and we're not going to stop reporting,” MacLeod said. “Now more than ever people need information.”

Plenty of questions need journalists to ask them, MacLeod said, outlining a few issues the Chronicle plans to cover in the near future. 

“We're making sure students who are on the GI Bill aren't losing their benefits, that students get refunds on housing, and that faculty are doing OK,” he said. 


"In times of crisis journalism matters more than ever."

-Michael Stanton