The WEB staff used to gather in a classroom full of sound and ideas. Our small team claimed the table closest to the window, perhaps hoping that inspiration would strike us from the sky above. Mr. Johnson sat nearby, listening to the chaos unfold throughout each meeting and eventually tuning it out to avoid falling into desperation. The days we spent together were loud and unfocused, but most of all, enjoyable. Like most events nowadays, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken this environment away, leaving us with a new normal.
The brainstorming process is entirely different now. Even our lively staff suffers from the chronic ailment of being unwilling to turn on our microphones. Thus, at the beginning of each news cycle, Mr. Johnson will set up a Google Form for us to submit ideas on our lonesome. Then, he creates a spreadsheet to share these thoughts with the staff. While we do briefly discuss our plans as a group, these days there is far less “brainstorming” compared to personal reflection. Most of our recent writing is an idea straight from our mind to our keyboard. Whether this stifles creativity or enhances it is yet to be seen.
It’s common knowledge for a journalist that interviews in person are far more valuable than online. After all, the best answers come once both parties are comfortable with the conversation. Emails allow for carefully crafted, impersonal responses. Phone calls make it hard to tell the personality. Only face-to-face calls get close, but still, it’s hard to decipher mannerisms through a screen. An interviewee could have their pants off for all we know. It’s simply not the level of connection a reporter wants to feel comfortable with their writing. This is why much of our publications this semester have been reviews, opinions, or human interest stories.
As for the publishing process, the switch to an online format has also forced us to stray from our roots. The WEB was well-known for appearing in the corner of each classroom overnight, gray papers spilling over tables, piquing the curiosity of wandering eyes. Now, our stories are confined (or perhaps set free) to the internet. We no longer have to limit our words based on the margins of a page or wait for each staff member to finish. However, without traffic on our website, it’s hard to tell just how far our voices reach. We no longer have classmates walking up to us in the hall to share their thoughts on our story. Rather than find this lack of feedback discouraging, the WEB’s staff has taken up the mantle of finding new ways to engage our readers, such as weekly columns or a new podcast.
Even our celebrations have changed drastically. Typically, after putting out an issue of the WEB, the staff would gather in the teacher’s lounge to share a meal: milk and six different cereal boxes as a reward for our efforts. Nowadays, a walk down to the kitchen of our houses is all it takes to get such a treat. The joy would be lost in the simplicity. We’re all writing from atop our beds and eating what we can from the pantry; there’s no need for a cereal party. This is undoubtedly our greatest loss.
Despite all these changes, the old energy of the WEB hasn’t entirely disappeared. Far from it. We still run off on tangents during our Google Meets, still struggle to meet deadlines, and always complain about something going on in Ames High. Our goal of providing Ames High with news and stories remains the same, and we work hard to meet it each month. Thus, if anything, this pandemic has served to show that no matter what difficulties we may encounter, journalism at Ames High will remain undaunted.