Looking Back on the Coronavirus Chronicles
When the reality of the coronavirus began to take hold in New York, CUNY went to remote classes, including for the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Classes were paused for a week as professors scrambled to move their instruction online. At that moment, a semester’s worth of plans were upended, including our planned Craft 2: Solutions Journalism reporting project. In pivoting to the big news of the day, this site was born—a new class project, both reported and diaristic, collaborative and remote.
With the end of the semester, some students are continuing to contribute, but others have moved on to other assignments and internships – many of them related to pandemic coverage, too. In shifting their view to the future, and the long-term reality of reporting under the shadow of the coronavirus, some of the Solutions class contributors reflect on the inception and management of the site, as well as the “new normal” they had to navigate:
Christine DeRosa, Reporter and Editor, Data Producer
When New York City first went into lockdown, our fearless student managing editors kicked into overdrive, along with our professors, to get this website populated with content. That same weekend, my parents traveled to Binghamton, New York to check on my sister and brother, who attend college in Utica. While they were there, I was in our Staten Island home alone, cranking out up to three stories a day.
After the site was up and rolling, I took on some projects within the site while still working on my own stories. Like most of the class, I published at least once a week on our schedule of reporting and editing shifts. I also helped members of our data team compile facts and figures on the virus, and work on visualization.
I have learned a lot while working on this site, such as how to report remotely and still get sources within the community. Social media helped find Staten Islanders; I made sire it was not the Forgotten Borough on our site.
I am so grateful for my time working on this site. Thank you to Frankie, Colin, Josh and Katie for being the best leaders I could ask for. Tim and Lynn — thank you for your support throughout the semester and driving us to always be our best.
Bryce Buyakie, Reporter and Editor, Social Media Coordinator
Like so many student reporters, the COVID-19 pandemic threw most of my stories and the semester into a tizzy. Sources went silent, events cancelled, and I left New York City for my parents’ house in Ohio.
In short, I needed to pivot each story to something else to make them work. So, when my story about political representation for New York City’s indigenous community fell through, I did what most procrastinating reporters do – I sat on it and twiddled my thumbs.
That was mid-March. I didn’t change the focus of the story until the middle of April when Facebook’s algorithm gave me a lead. It was a recommended event for a social distancing powwow competition hosted by Social Distance Powwow. At this point everything was online, including my classes, but this was different from yet another novel online event.
Powwows often involve more people than can fit on the screen of the average Zoom call, and the sound of music and drums would become an echoing white noise of audio feedback. I emailed the creators of the group and asked a single question, “How does this work?”
After a quick interview with Stephanie Hebert, organizer of the group, I was hooked, so later that day, I watched the dancing competition online. That’s where I found my main character, Dottie Scabbyrobe, who won the competition, by popular vote, with her Fancy Shawl dance. From the comment section I found three more sources, including the group’s unofficial IT manager, Yvette Lokotz.
While Lokotz didn’t make it into the article, she not only answered the question that drew me into this story, but she also described powwows as a “medicine” for the indigenous community – something I hadn’t yet considered.
After talking to each of my sources, I called Tecumseh Ceaser, who lives in the Bronx. He lost two of his elders to the coronavirus and was suffering financially because the powwows where he sells his jewelry were canceled. When I asked about powwows as medicine, he said that it keeps a very social community connected.
This was the moment when I realized that I wasn’t chasing a story about another series of events moving online. It was about giving a community an online space to celebrate their culture.
Francesca Krempa, Managing Editor
Managing the site was exhausting but overall, it was a valuable experience, and I’m very grateful.
That first weekend in mid-March we got the site live, the day a national state of emergency was declared, was a whirlwind. But it taught me how to rally a team and communicate effectively under pressure. Essentially, we started running a mini-newsroom, scattered by working closely together. As managing editors, we were responsible for streamlining the strategy for the class, while still accountable to our professors (Lynn, Tim and John).
It wasn’t easy — we were working round-the-clock at some points — but it taught me really valuable skills I know I can carry with me into the working world. It also made me re-examine the soft skills we often take for granted, like time management and emotional intelligence. I really tried to embrace those when working with the class.
All in all, it was a positive experience that gave me the opportunity to collaborate with smart, proactive classmates. I’m tired — but it’s a good tired.
Paul Stremple, Reporter and Editor
One of the hardest parts of adjusting to the new site was letting go of reporting projects that were suddenly untenable during coronavirus. Even work that had been previously reported-out, waiting on a few more sources and a bit of writing, didn’t matter for the time being.
When hundreds of New Yorkers are dying each day, who really wants to read about zoning? Or when every public health official is focused on coronavirus, who can spare a second to talk about unrelated drug policy?
At first, everything was new, so once we were able to shift into gear, stories were everywhere. With news changing every minute, quick updates were possible. But once things settled into a longer-term mindset, the question became: how do I tell a vital, original story about coronavirus? Pushing to find new angles and ways to approach the pandemic was a valuable exercise, making us think harder about what we need from reporting at a time like this.
As hard as it was to abandon old projects, the world won’t stay this way forever, and the old problems we had will still be there as we start to return to our old lives. I look forward to the day when things are normal enough to spend hundreds of words on land-use policy instead of tragedy.
Katie Herchenroeder, Managing Editor
Fashion-wise, I’ve always taken pride in my ability to put together an absolutely exquisite look within minutes when rushing to get ready for a classroom, newsroom or conference room. Where it used to take me a strict 45 minutes to execute the perfect liquid line and decide which belt went with the mom-jeans-of-the-day, by the time I had made it to graduate school, I smushed my getting-ready time to 18 minutes flat.
While working and learning from home, I’ve done it in as fast as three minutes. Of course, it helps that I can simultaneously rock a blazer and Nike running shorts, but what’s a girl to do when class starts at 6:30 a.m. her time zone and she was up writing an article until 4 o’clock in the morning.
I’ve also taken pride in my ability to be a chosen night-owl and forced early-bird. Before the coronavirus changed, well, everything, I was living in Harlem, and operating on an 8:00 a.m. to 3 a.m. schedule, with the occasional nap. After the virus took over NYC – and all our lives – I joined my family in Tucson, where I can drive to the mountains, and where I’m operating three hours earlier than most of my peers.
Living on Mountain Standard Time in the Eastern Time-dominated industry of journalism has wrecked any semblance of a hoped-for schedule and prepared me for my summer internship better than I could have imagined.
Starting in just a couple weeks, I’ll be working remotely for VICE Asia. Their offices, based in Singapore, operate 15 hours ahead of Arizona and 12 ahead of New York. That would normally intimidate the carefully picked earrings off my head, but now the time difference is something I feel ready to embrace, and even use to my advantage.
My beat is Asian Americans, but I will still be in detailed contact with my supervisors in Singapore. And, much to my excitement, their end of workday aligns with mine: The early hours of the morning. So, as I deal with the final weeks thinking that 9:30 a.m. is uncivilized, I look forward to the lessons that working in a different time zone has taught me.