From the Editors’ Desk: How we're handling journalism in a pandemic
Five months ago, we sat in the Thresher office, eating chips, chatting and editing articles along with our fellow staffers. During our last in-office work cycle for the spring semester, before everyone began using phrases such as "these unprecedented times," we were focused on finishing our articles under the wire, wondering how likely it would be for Rice to make classes remote for the rest of the semester.
The following week was the first time since World War I that the Thresher, a 104-year-old organization, stopped printing weekly papers. As brand-new editors-in-chief, we had to navigate the transition to fully remote operations, while continuing to cover daily breaking news and publishing critical stories across our seven sections.
Looking back at previous editors' welcome letters, you'll notice a pattern. "There's never been a more important time for journalism," says the headline of the 2018 letter by co-editors Andrew Grottkau and Emily Abdow, while last year's editor-in-chief Christina Tan emphasized the need to support student media efforts. Their words were relevant then, but even more so now.
The COVID-19 situation at Rice is constantly evolving and it is easy for misinformation and rumors to spread. In just the past few weeks, there have been multiple instances of false or inaccurate information about COVID-19 on campus being propagated through GroupMe chats, Facebook parent groups and other channels. Amidst a sea of unverified rumors, we are constantly fact-checking, reaching out to new sources and ensuring that the information we print is accurate.
Perhaps the hardest part of our job is reporting the stories that everyone wants to read, but no one wants to talk about. We may know that students and faculty members have an opinion on administrative decisions, but it can be extremely difficult to find anyone to speak on the record. In an era where the media is repeatedly undermined by politicians and others, we strive for independent and ethical journalism that answers questions the Rice community is asking. Our stories are intentionally designed to be unbiased and holistic. However, without the cooperation of sources, especially student leaders and administrators, we are unable to fulfill our goals — especially during this pandemic, which has made information and sources even harder to access. Our policies for interviews are completely transparent, and we genuinely welcome information from any Rice community member.
We believe in showing empathy to all the sources and stakeholders in any story, and we ask that you do the same for us. Remember that our editors, writers, designers, photographers and other staff are also undergraduate students, balancing our work as journalists with our responsibilities as students, amidst the anxiety caused by this pandemic. Please be patient with us, and if you have any story tips, comments or criticism, always feel free to share it with us.
For both of us, working at the Thresher has been the single most meaningful experience of our time at Rice. Whether you are interested in pursuing a career in journalism or enjoy being at the center of campus conversations and happenings, we have a myriad of opportunities for you, from writing to design to business management positions. The quality of our coverage rests upon the diversity of our staff, and we are committed to making the Thresher’s platform accessible to any member of the Rice community.
Today, we are proud to bring you the first print issue since the pandemic began. It is our privilege to lead our incredibly resilient staffers who have quickly adapted their storytelling in this rightfully called "unprecedented" environment, and we hope you enjoy reading our writing as much as we enjoy producing it.
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Remember that we are fellow students seeking to deliver truth to the community with the best intentions in mind. I am deeply appreciative of every student, staff member, faculty and administrator that has shared their stories, data and viewpoints with me. Without the Rice community’s buy-in, the important work we do would not be possible.
As a Students Turning Rice Into a Violence-Free Environment liaison, the organization and its mission are incredibly important to me. I originally joined because, as a survivor myself, I wanted to be a part of facilitating safe spaces on campus through educating my peers and acting as a resource to provide support. STRIVE cares a lot about the student body and puts an extreme number of hours into raising awareness and making themselves accessible, as we have seen with the recent survivor panels, college-specific events throughout the year and their response to an anonymous 2019 Thresher opinion. However, we need to readjust how STRIVE is not only viewed and utilized by the student body but also how it is run. The place the organization holds now oversteps into the lives of liaisons and other students and goes beyond what they set out to do with their mission statement.