Despite Closures, Chicago Student Newspapers Keep Reporting | WBEZ
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Despite Campus Closures, Chicago Student Newspapers Keep Reporting

Updated at 9:10 p.m., March 19

This Saturday, Marissa Martinez will become the first black female editor-in-chief of the Daily Northwestern, the daily print publication at Northwestern University.

She’ll also be one of the first students to lead the paper during a pandemic.

As colleges shift to online learning to slow the spread of the new coronavirus, college students across the country are returning home or finding housing off campus. But those who manage their university newspapers are continuing to cover campus news remotely.

“I’m trying to schedule meetings … to make sure we all are on the same page with what our coverage has been and where we’re trying to go,” Martinez said from her home in suburban Oak Lawn. 

Martinez said they’ll continue to cover news in Chicago and Evanston as well as university news throughout the spring quarter — just from afar. Print operations have been suspended so they’re focusing on the digital product. Martinez now has to manage a staff scattered across the country in different time zones.

“I want to make sure we find that balance between staying sane and staying healthy with putting out really accurate and fast information,” she said.

During a normal semester, students arrive at the newsroom at 6 p.m. and don’t leave until at least midnight. Now, students are going to be on different schedules. She anticipates video meetings being a key way to communicate.

She also wants to continue the fun atmosphere she believes she and others have cultivated in the newsroom over the past few semesters.

“I’ve met some of my best friends there,” Martinez said. “I hope we can continue to do Netflix Party or play Kahoots online or make TikToks together [to] do whatever we can to have fun.”

Matthew Rago runs The Independent at Northeastern Illinois University, which traditionally prints a biweekly newspaper. Its print schedule has been suspended, too. The new coronavirus pandemic has caused them to shift the type of articles they produce.

“We have been focusing more on timeliness, breaking news,” Rago said. “It’s been challenging, but it’s been beneficial to our maturation as a publication.”

Rago is depending on his seven-member editorial team to do most of the writing, along with occasional staff writers. Northeastern Illinois has a large commuter student population and Rago said it can be hard to recruit routine contributors. There are a lot of new writers at the paper who are still learning AP style and need guidance from editorial staff.

“It’s going to be more difficult to provide instruction and constructive criticism that results in more precise, clear and more fluid writing,” he said.

It’s a big change, Rago says, but he thinks and his staff are up to the challenge.

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports

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