The Ones That Always Show Up
The Hawks' Herald staff create a virtual newsroom in response to COVID-19, staying connected to one another and getting the stories out online.
BRISTOL, R.I. – From her childhood bedroom, one The Hawks’ Herald staff member shows off her doll collection to her fellow journalists on a video chat. Another calls into a meeting from his car on his way back home to upstate New York. A staff advisor works on her knitting while listening to students brainstorm story ideas from their individual homes.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has scattered across the country and is working remotely. They have found joy in seeing each others' faces online, peeking into each others’ lives at home, and working together to get the news out.
“Emotionally, they each have to deal with this as individuals, but I think the saving grace has been the paper,” faculty advisor Janine Weisman said. “It’s helped keep them connected. The virtual meetings have been delightful.”
“I am so grateful to have the team and resources I do,” said Managing Editor Megan Wilgoos. “I am so sad this is how I have to end my senior year, but The Hawks' Herald is my family and it has been proven especially in this time of trouble. We will be reporting for the rest of the school year!”
As soon as the decision was made to extend spring break to prepare for remote learning, The Hawks’ Herald student journalists created a virtual newsroom, writing, revising and recording updates to fast-changing news stories.
Already having a solid digital presence, the print newspaper has moved completely online and has begun addressing an audience for whom college life as they knew it has changed. The team, equipped with flexibility, a “digital-first” approach, and a strong sense of collaboration, is up for the challenge.
“The challenges we face – that all journalists face – is getting the information as fast as we can to break the news,” Willgoos said. “Whenever we were told that a new email would be sent out, we would start writing up a story and contacting people with more information, so that way they were ready to post as soon as that email was sent out. We are so lucky with the sources we have on campus."
Without on-campus events to cover, The Hawks’ Herald staff had to think creatively about which topics their audience would want to read about.
“Our paper is all about RWU and its community and because of COVID-19, this has become very difficult,” Wilgoos said. “We can no longer cover events on and off campus because they are all canceled. The sports section technically has no sports to write about. So, as a staff, we get together on FaceTime and brainstorm what topics are relevant to COVID-19 in each of our sections. This has led to what Netflix series to binge watch that week, what kind of at home workouts you can do, and just overall coverage on how the school has dealt with this pandemic.”
Their first issue since remote learning began was published electronically on March 20. Along with university updates on COVID-19, it included an interview with Dr. Bernardo Motta, who is scheduled to join the Journalism program this fall, a story on the dismay of athletes faced with an abrupt end to the sports season, "Ten Ways to Celebrate Women’s History Month," and a piece on indoor plants to have at home while social distancing.
“This is a time when what they do matters so much to the student body,” said Weisman. “I think the paper is an important part of making sure students have information, and that they have a full understanding of the crisis at hand.”
As professional-level journalists, the team knows that their work is crucial to the RWU community.
“Campus operations might not be normal but know that our work will not stop,” wrote Editor-in-Chief Isabella Gentile. “Our staff is determined to produce comprehensive coverage and keep our community connected during this tumultuous time.”
Associate Professor of Journalism and Advisor of the RWU Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists, Paola Prado, praised the team’s resilience.
"We can all be proud of The Hawks’ Herald student reporters and their amazingly energetic faculty advisor Janine Weisman,” Prado said. “This is what award-winning student journalism looks like. You may want to give them a shout out if you see them online. They are sure to be there. They are the ones who always show up.”