I’ve Written This at Least a Hundred Times: A Reflection on How COVID-19 Affects Student Journalists

Fresno City College’s student run newspaper, The Rampage, produced 137 stories from news, opinion, entertainment, and sports from January to June of 2020.

In fall of 2020, The Rampage produced 40.

It is with that in mind that I am composing this article.

As Editor in Chief of The Rampage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel it’s important to be fully transparent, and to share a glimpse into how the pandemic and reception of the media in general personally affects journalists.

Through one-on-one conversations with reporters, or even to seeing the effects of the pandemic appear in the quality of writing, I am sure every individual in the newsroom feels similar to how I have felt throughout the pandemic. And the signs were all very clear:

We were not prepared for it.

I can attribute my feelings to a combination of several things: the feeling of a drop-off in reader interest, the difficulty in finding motivation to succeed in such a unique situation, and finally, the feeling of personal failure due to inability to evolve with the fast-changing style of work that was thrust on the world so suddenly.

The latter of those three led to a complete drop off in confidence, not only as an editor, but as a writer.

The pandemic presented an entirely new set of challenges for modern reporters. It essentially force-fed the media the future, regardless of whether they were ready for it. 

Zoom calls. Phone interviews. A lack of physical attendance and presence, throwing any physical practices that had been recently learned completely out the window – rendering them temporarily obsolete for an indefinite amount of time. And the list goes on.

The sudden lack of imagery through photography. The difficulty of getting multimedia projects coordinated and put together from being socially distanced and lacking access to resources. 

Between the beginning of shelter-in-place orders and the advanced state of the pandemic now, I noticed the biggest challenge for a newsroom like ours – fewer and fewer reporters making it all the way through to the end. COVID hit and the interest went from waning to practically nonexistent.

As a student-run publication, adding reporters mid-semester is virtually impossible. This causes the workload to back up onto the remaining reporters and editors.

This semester, the well ran dry.

In newswriting, I’ve never become emotional before, but I think it finally got to me.

I say the words “I’ve written this a hundred times,” because not only have I seemingly re-written this article that many times, but it feels as though I’ve seen the same repeated failures that many times too.

Whether it was another dropped reporter from the class, or yet another story that never came to fruition, the motivation was gone by the end of the semester.

I returned to The Rampage to help retain a semblance of consistency and familiarity among the staff – remaining with the publication because of my experience. But as I leave, I now realize that much of the knowledge prior to the pandemic was obsolete.

And the most unsettling part: I can’t tell whether to blame my abilities, the pandemic, my response to it, or the situation as a whole.

These obstacles made it nearly impossible to attain that goal.

As a student journalist, I learn from my mistakes.

But to deal with the strain that those mistakes being public feelings of dissatisfaction or not meeting expectations? How can someone be taught how to deal with that?

I have had the opportunity to see The Rampage at what have felt like the highest of highs. Unfortunately, my time with the publication will seemingly end on the lowest of lows.

But the trials of this semester have provided valuable experience for the staff returning in the spring, and I’m confident that The Rampage staff will now have more success and a better understanding of how to manage a student-run publication during a pandemic.

Many barriers stood between this semester’s staff and achieving our goals for these past few months, but having already stumbled through this unpredictable semester, I’m looking forward to seeing what the next group of journalists at The Rampage can accomplish.