Interviews were a much simpler proposition for student journalists in Rockwood School District before the coronavirus (COVID-19) school closures. If they needed to talk to a source for a story, they could simply find out which class they were in, stroll down the hall and talk with them.
Now, the journalists have to be a little more creative.
"We haven't told people to go film themselves and send that to us for stories before; we've never had to do that," said Jack Weaver, a senior at Lafayette High and the Lancer Feed digital media and social media editor. "We're having people send us selfies, photos, set up their phone and record themselves doing whatever the story is about. It's a lot of relying on other people to send us stuff. It's not the same quality we're used to, not the same timeframe or the control we usually have over our content."
Student publications staff members at Rockwood's four high schools – Eureka
and Rockwood Summit
– are finding new ways to present unorthodox stories during a historic time. They're filling websites, digital magazine issues and vacant yearbook spreads in ways they had never considered before, all without the benefits of the face-to-face class meetings and planning sessions to which they were accustomed.
It's a challenging time. But it's also a time that Rockwood's student journalists are approaching with ingenuity and a sense of purpose.
"I understood how impactful what we do is on the community and the high school, but this has really set in that we're the ones bringing them this information, and they're not going to get it anywhere else," said senior Taylor Werges, social media editor for Eureka High student publications. "It's made me enjoy what I do more and given me a greater respect for journalism as a whole. It's a tough time, but I don't feel like there's any better time to be a journalist than now."New Avenues
Eureka High students had worked since August to bring The Bugle, a print magazine, back. The hard work and planning paid off just before spring break, when The Bugle hit the hallways for the first time in eight years.
"Little did we know, it was the last time we were going to be printing for the year," said senior Ethan Fine, editor-in-chief of Eureka High journalism. "But we were able to do this online edition, which was nice. The turnaround time was five days versus two months like we did previously. Hopefully we can do that for the senior edition."
Eureka High produced a digital version of The Bugle that posted to its website April 7 and continues to post updates to its EHS Hub website
. The district's other three high schools are also finding ways to drive their traditional print readership online.
Marquette launched a Student News Source mobile app as another home for its content, complete with an introductory tutorial video
made by senior Jackson Estwanick, executive producer of The Messenger and MHSNews
. Lafayette continues to populate The Lancer Feed website
and posted the March issue of The Image magazine as an e-edition.
Rockwood Summit's latest edition of its publication, The Talon
, is hosted on its website as well. Senior Jack Goren, the paper's co-editor-in-chief, said The Talon is significantly stepping up its web presence.
"We're planning on doing an issue every two weeks, versus monthly like we used to," Goren said. "We're going to keep writing features, news and interviews on our website. We printed our March edition just before the closures happened, so we uploaded that online and, after that, we're strictly doing a digital edition."
Lafayette and Marquette are still planning to print and distribute the year-end senior issues of their publications.
"It is important for seniors to have that memorabilia, especially at a time when a lot of our memories are not necessarily going to happen," said Lafayette senior Delaney Stulce, Image editor-in-chief. "We want to ensure that people get something that they shouldn't miss out on. We are inspired to get this to people."Creative Content
Marquette's yearbook, the Medallion, has about 40 pages to fill. That's the space the staff set aside for spring athletics and activities, all of which have been canceled in their traditional form.
So the staff is thinking outside of the box.
"The seniors, since so much is being taken away from them right now, we're trying to implement as many senior things as we can in the book," said junior Sarah Abbas, Medallion co-editor-in-chief. "The biggest thing is for us to fill those pages with information that is accurate, reliable and interesting. This has affected everyone. We need to make sure that we somehow make people who have lost out feel bigger in the process."
The staffs of the Eureka High Eurekana, Lafayette Legend and Rockwood Summit Pinnacle are facing similar challenges.
They are relying on fellow students to provide the content. Then the staff members will collect the material for the spreads, and the editors will put it all together and send it away for printing.
"We're putting out social media calls for different sides of all the things we need for each section – sports, academics, how people are managing their time, planning and organizing with online school," said senior Shannon Worley, Legend editor-in-chief.
"It's going to be one of our most important yearbooks that we've made because it's going to be documenting such a big part of history," added senior Audrey Samples, Legend activities editor. "Nothing like this has ever happened before."A Place in History
Marquette junior Lauren Pickett, a Messenger staff writer, attended a virtual webinar over spring break about reporting on the coronavirus pandemic. One of the main takeaways, she said, was to accentuate local coverage.
People can turn to many places to get national news. The Rockwood community can only rely on a select few places for coverage specific to them.
"We're trying to get those perspectives of people that have parents with local businesses or in the medical field," Pickett said. "We have that ability to document history on the student level and also remember this and how we grew throughout high school, being able to see that and how it's changing kids' lives through high school and into college."
Not many student journalists get the chance to report on stories that affect the globe. It's more than a class; it's a way for these students to ensure their experiences are recorded for posterity.
"That's a big reason we did decide to move forward with our issues. It was something that was going to lift people's spirits, having a piece of normalcy," said senior Marta Mieze, Messenger co-editor-in-chief. "History is happening. Being able to write about that from the student perspective, which a lot of people wouldn't see, is valuable. I feel honored to write about that."
Rockwood's student journalists are a community unto themselves. They're also playing a vital role in keeping their school communities informed.
"It's really kept us connected through this time where a lot of people feel isolated," said senior Chloe Baker, Lanced Feed web editor. "What we're doing is connecting this community at Lafayette and the community around us. That's another reason why our work is more important right now."