Getting out campus news in the face of COVID-19
Loyola's 100-year-old newspaper operates virtual newsroom
People need good journalism now more than ever ─ and Loyola University New Orleans’ award-winning student newspaper has clearly stepped up to the challenge. Despite daily surprises, uncharted territory, and endless new barriers as the country copes with changes tied to COVID-19, the Maroon continues to put out pivotal university news daily ─ all while operating through a virtual newsroom.
“For nearly 100 years, the Maroon has ensured the Loyola community stays informed about pivotal issues, and we committed from the start that we would see this story through,” said Sonya Duhé, director of the School of Communication and Design. “Our students’ dedication is a commitment to excellence and outstanding journalism ─ it’s also a collective act of foresight and courage.”
Loyola’s 95-year-old student newspaper is used to breaking news and adapting. And the results show it. In recent years, the Maroon has garnered hundreds of awards, including a Pacemaker Award from the Associated College Press and a Pinnacle Award for No. 1 Best College Media Outlet from the College Media Association.
As Loyola President Tania Tetlow announced Wednesday, March 12, that Loyola would be moving to online instruction for the rest of the semester, the Maroon was already swiftly transitioning fully online.
While this was not the reason for campus closure, two journalism students and a professor had just been informed they may have been exposed to COVID-19 at the NICAR conference held in New Orleans; a woman with whom they had dinner was the city's first presumptive case.
Loyola’s award-winning student newspaper went online overnight committed to continue covering campus news, despite an editor in chief in quarantine.
As the administration made hard decisions daily and fellow students packed up their dorm rooms and said good-bye, members of the Maroon’s staff scrambled to get out the story. Student journalists covered stories about the online transition, deferred student loan interest and city plans for tackling emerging community spread.
Within just one week, the Maroon's statistics showed that coverage was resonating more than ever as the Maroon rallied to cover changes on campus, including whether commencement would go on as planned and how students were coping.
Twelve members assembled as core staff – and down from a staff of 50 -- are still covering university news though they are scattered across the country. They are meeting three times a week via videoconference with their adviser; they are using GroupMe for text chats to stay in touch with one another, and they have switched entirely to a cloud-based content management system to coordinate their coverage, digital properties, and edits.
"They are living the news as they cover the story real-time, in video, photography, and digital formats ─ they are really living the multimedia platform approach we teach them in the classroom," said Michael Giusti, chair of Loyola’s journalism department, pointing to first-week statistics and statistics from the week before.
"Our traffic is up drastically since we made this shift," said Giusti. "Our users are up 237 percent and page views are up 197 percent."