What we’ve learned from publishing a newspaper in a pandemic
For the past year, people have been using the message “we’re all in this together” to help us feel less isolated in the shared traumatic experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. While all of our lives have been touched by the pandemic, it has also affected each of us differently, at different times and in different degrees. Some of us stayed in Houston, while others went back to our hometowns. Some of us stayed inside, isolated from other people, while others had to work in-person jobs as essential workers. Some of us watched our loved ones suffer from afar after they contracted the virus and some of us contracted it ourselves. For this editorial, the Thresher editorial board is reflecting on our experience of the pandemic as a newspaper staff and finding out why the work we do continues to be worthwhile despite the challenges.
Monday nights are Thresher production nights. Before a virus turned our world upside down, we spent them in our office, located on the top floor of the Rice Memorial Center. Around 6:30 p.m., staffers would pile into a conference room, vying for open chairs and slinking onto tables or the carpeted floor when there were none left. Sometimes we would have dinner — Pink’s Pizza and Halal Guys were staples — and there would always be snacks: baby carrots and hummus, grapes, Cheez-Its, Cheetos and every variety of Oreo on the market. After our staff meeting, we would make our way to the offices to slump down onto chairs and sofas, type on laptops and desktops, distract ourselves with conversation and laughter, and edit and design until our brains and eyes no longer cooperated. We didn’t know any other way to make a newspaper.
These days, the Thresher office is quiet and empty, save for a few editors who visit it occasionally, masked and with six feet of distance between one another. Our Monday night routine involves opening up a Zoom in our respective dorms, houses, and apartments, both in Houston and around the world. Jokes and banter are mostly typed into the chat, and impassioned editorial board discussions are interrupted by spotty Wi-Fi connections. Making a newspaper together used to be a highly social experience. Now, it can be quite lonely.
But producing the Thresher over the past year has also been massively rewarding. Back in the spring of 2020, we didn’t know we were printing our final newspaper of the semester until it was already on stands across campus, with headlines such as “Beer Bike, major events canceled for the semester” and “Faculty prepare for possible transition to remote instruction.” Within a matter of days, it became clear that remote instruction was very much a reality, and that we wouldn’t be seeing each other in person on Monday nights for a long time. We pivoted to online-only content, brought it to our community via weekly newsletter (which is still going, and you can still subscribe to), and worked tirelessly to write about Rice as it crumbled around us.
Back in March and April, people were advising each other to take a break from the constant news and doom-scrolling as a form of self-care. For many of our reporters and editors, that simply was not an option, and the work was exhausting. It also kept us going, and gave us a sense of purpose when it seemed like our classes and other responsibilities didn’t matter under the shadow of a global pandemic. Over the summer, we had the chance to catch our breath and regain our footing (while continuing to report — we published a whopping 43 stories and opinion pieces during the summer of 2020, many more than normal) and this school year, we’ve been able to resume printing at a much smaller capacity. Working under circumstances that no previous generation of the Thresher has had to face, we’ve continued our paper’s tradition of bringing the Rice community pertinent, sharp and brave reporting, and we’re immensely proud.
Just as the Thresher had to pivot to an unprecedented mode of operations, the people, organizations and communities that we serve also began functioning in vastly different capacities. When the pandemic first began, there was a period of anxiety when we thought there would be nothing to report on outside of the virus itself — all of the festivals, concerts and events we had been anticipating were canceled. However, as the year progressed we learned that our community was not shutting down completely. We have watched as community members adapted projects, exhibits, protests and events to function in innovative virtual and socially-distanced avenues, from student cultural clubs streaming their annual cultural showcases online to college art groups holding exhibits and outdoor concerts. In carrying the Thresher forward over the past year, we’ve had to look for our stories in new ways and in new places. We’ve been inspired by how the Rice and Houston community has continued to tell their own stories in the face of so many obstacles, and we’ve been honored to record all of their historic firsts and lasts.
We’re not sure when we’ll next be able to share Halal Guys together in the RMC. By that time, it’s likely that the five seniors on this editorial board will be gone, and that many of the staffers filling up that conference room will have only known the Thresher in a virtual capacity. Our pre-pandemic traditions may be lost in history, replaced by entirely new ones established by students who have gotten to know an entirely different Rice, and an entirely different Thresher. But if publishing the Thresher over the past year has shown us anything, it’s that no matter the circumstances, that room will be filled with Rice students devoted to telling the stories that our community needs to hear. And our community will continue giving us incredible stories to tell.
Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Rishab Ramapriyan, Ivanka Perez, Amy Qin, Nayeli Shad, Ella Feldman, Katelyn Landry, Rynd Morgan, Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Simona Matovic and Dalia Gulca.
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