Despite pandemic-related obstacles, Elon's six student media organizations have adjusted their normal routines and remained steadfast in their operations.
It’s no secret that nearly every organization on campus has shared the same obstacle of maintaining a sense of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But despite the challenges, student media organizations have persisted, and here’s how they’re operating.
Elon News Network
Perhaps the most impressive qualities of Elon News Network are its esteemed reputation and its eagerness to welcome interested new members from all academic backgrounds, regardless journalism experience, and teach them how to carry out the different roles of the newsroom.
But now, with the seemingly endless list of imposed restrictions and limitations, the greatest challenge has been finding ways to interest and recruit new members without the ability to offer them hands-on teaching or “be right over their shoulders, showing them how to do every single thing and every single edit and teach them every single position,” said Jack Norcross ’21, the news director of Elon Local News, which is the broadcast arm of ENN.
And while the team expected some adjustments coming into the fall semester, Norcross said he didn’t expect the regulations to be as drastic as they are. Studio and newsroom capacities were established back in July, but the team has continually been forced to readjust, even since being back on campus. One of those adjustments: pursuing news stories and interviewing sources in nontraditional ways.
Masked, in-person interviews indoors quickly shifted outside or onto Zoom. And while the dominating video chat platform has provided safe and efficient alternatives to in-person conversations, it has erected roadblocks that news stations across the country have had to avoid, like blurry webcams and poor audio. And ENN is no exception.
“This is all stuff that you essentially want to air, so it needs to be to a high caliber,” Norcross said. “But it’s challenging, right? It’s challenging to find that balance and to not become super reliant on Zoom, but using it rather as a tool that will really help us to continue to do our job of telling the campus’ stories.”
In an effort to combat the challenges of recruiting members, ENN has incorporated pre-recorded virtual workshops to teach new members how to write a news story or how to use search engine optimization techniques to help readers find their work. On the broadcast side, though, smaller workshops on how to use studio equipment have also been successful in training new members.
But there’s been no shortage of news, either. Not only has the team learned to never expect a calm week in the newsroom, they’ve also learned the unique importance of reporting during a time defined by things like racial injustice, COVID-19 and the controversy of the presidential election.
Norcross hopes the passion and drive ENN members have demonstrated this semester will stay, even after the pandemic subsides.
“But I hope that everyone learns that, even once the pandemic fades, even once everything fades, I hope people don’t lose that hyperawareness, don’t lose that drive to get stories and to get stories right,” he said.
Elon Student Television
Whereas other organizations have struggled with rounding up full staffs, Elon Student Television has been faced with the opposite challenge: finding enough opportunities for new members, especially when regular, in-person training on how to carry out different roles is, for the foreseeable future, impractical.
With more adapting comes more responsibility, and with more responsibility comes more work for members. It’s been difficult, though, to divvy up the additional work when new members, who have little experience working in front of and behind the camera, are unfamiliar with the ropes─even if there are plenty of them. As a result, most of the responsibility has fallen on those who are more experienced, like producers.
“Finding a balance is hard because we don’t want to give producers this work that they shouldn’t be doing,” said Ariana Reyes ’21, station manager of ESTV. “We need to get people trained on how to use equipment.”
And so, Reyes implemented training program mandates for show producers. Each producer is responsible for facilitating a training program ─ hosted either over Zoom or via pre-recorded video ─ of their choice. For “Elon Tonight,” Reyes said, a training program might include teaching members how to brainstorm dialogues. And for “eTalk,” training might be practicing color correction in post-production.
Given the in-studio restrictions and the desire to remain practical with what they’re able to produce, some shows were given reduced episode requirements, Reyes said. “They wanted to be realistic with what they were looking to achieve this semester with everything going on.”
And because there are fewer opportunities and positions available for new members, Reyes has also raised the social media requirements for shows to a more “demanding” amount, which has also increased engagement with audiences. Depending on the show, that could mean hosting an Instagram Live event or collaborating on a giveaway.
“If COVID means that we can’t have all these people in-studio like we used to, then I have to create more positions outside of the studio,” she said. “That’s our strategy right now in adapting to what we’re going through: creating more positions, creating more stability in the way that our members are getting involved.”
Aside from social media engagement, though, requiring her teams to do research has helped the organization front this semester’s “new normal.” Teams have been conducting research on how the industry is adapting, and how they can implement similar changes. And Reyes has noticed a significant difference.
“You can see that the layout, the dynamic of the show was planned beforehand,” she said. “You can see that they knew what they were thinking about in terms of how the show was going to look. That’s a product of the research that they’ve been doing.”
In a normal year, the editor-in-chief of Colonnades wouldn’t be thinking about assembling a team, much less a journal, until much later in the fall. But because of the uncertainty that has uninvitedly accompanied this semester, Editor-in-chief Abby Fuller ’21 wanted to get a head start on hiring, understanding that, at any moment in the school year, fully remote instruction is a possibility. And assembling a team as quickly as possible to form that initial sense of community, for Fuller, was non-negotiable.
“It can be really hard to communicate information digitally because you can’t get tone and there’s so much lost in subtext,” Fuller said. “And so this semester, it’s important to build community and make sure we’re all on the same page. I think this can be a really good practice on how we communicate with one another digitally.”
Colonnades is an organization that typically functions by way of digital editing and virtual construction of the final publication. Readers can read remotely, designs can be created from home and, while not preferred, Zoom calls can replace in-person conversations. Besides, “people are just so used to things happening remotely now,” Fuller added. So, while working remotely may pose challenges for other organizations, Fuller is confident Colonnades is well-equipped to operate behind screens and in front of webcams, if necessary.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for Colonnades is encapsulating through words and art the rollercoaster of emotions students have experienced this year. And former non-fiction editor Fuller believes that being a part of Colonnades right now is more of an honor than ever before.
“Last year, when I was reading through the creative nonfiction pieces, it just felt like a cool honor that I was the one that got to read through all these stories,” she said. “This is just such an emotional and important time for college students and the student body, so I’m really excited to see what students are going to be writing about.”
Despite the restrictive challenges the pandemic has imposed, Fuller has noticed a silver lining─one she hopes will last within Colonnades after her tenure ends: finding new, creative ways to assemble the publication, rather than just following in the footsteps of the previous editors-in-chief.
“With the pandemic, it’s caused all of us to be like, ‘Is that the way it’s always been done, or is there a better way to do it?’” she said. “I think with this book and the way it comes together, I hope that the culture of Colonnades, in the future, will just look at things differently and create a really good publication of student work that’s not just following what the EIC before them did.”
For Limelight Records, Elon’s student-run record label, this semester has revealed many things. Among them are challenges associated with recording in-studio, singing with masks on and finding live performance opportunities for the label’s signed artists. What’s been the most obvious, and even rewarding, though, is the demand for something we haven’t experienced normally since before the pandemic: live music.
Coming into the semester, Limelight President Andrew High ’21 never anticipated the itinerary of live concerts and tours that artists in the organization are used to. In fact, he expected the opposite. But, to his surprise, there has still been a great deal of opportunity for artists to perform live.
“It really just shows the demand for live music,” High said. “[Live music] is still a super popular thing, and a lot of these events have really good showings in the crowds and in the audience because, you know, there haven’t been concerts for six months. So, now that you have a chance to go see live music, people are excited about it.”
Artists, like Eliza Spear and Paloma, have played at socially-distanced concerts in the Raleigh-Durham area, as well as local events ─ the annual Fall Pumpkin Festival and homecoming celebrations to name a few. Despite the slight muffling of voices behind masks, artists are just happy to be on stage again and are “more concerned about keeping people safe than getting the perfect vocal take,” High said.
Aside from performing live, masked and socially-distanced, artists have found additional ways to adapt and continue creating. While some are filming studio sessions and posting them on social media, others are teaming up with WSOE 89.3 FM, a collaboration that would involve a Limelight artist performing in-studio and streamed directly onto the radio station.
For High, finding ways to carry out a close-to-normal routine this semester is just another part of keeping up with the music industry. “The industry changes so quickly,” he said, “and I just see this as another aspect of always having to be ready to adapt and change to fit the space we have to fill.”
And for Limelight, High believes the space they have to fill is celebrating the power of music, virus or no virus.
“It’s a very divisive political landscape and a very divisive moment in time,” he said. “I think having an experience of everyone coming together and watching music and art be created is a really easy way to connect with people on a deeper level that celebrates the better sides of being a human.”
Phi Psi Cli
With the lack of commotion on campus, whether in the classroom or on the football field, and the uncertainty of what the calendar of events will look like, Phi Psi Cli has been forced to adjust its normal agenda. And it’s safe to say that documenting a school year that hardly exists like it used to has been the greatest adjustment.
“It’s been a little bit difficult just because with the yearbook, our whole thing is about the year at Elon, and right now it’s hard to determine what that looks like,” editor-in-chief Kathryn Williams ’22 said. “We don’t know if we’re going to have sports in the winter or spring or what events will still happen and what events will get canceled.”
In years past, events like homecoming, fall and spring convocations, and fall sports have taken up a lot of surface area. But without those events to count on, the organization has been forced to be innovative with page designs and spreads. Some ideas for page spreads include the creativity of masks around campus and Zoom fitness classes. But, perhaps, less coverage of larger campus events has been a positive, as yearbook writers and editors have been able to shine a larger spotlight on the organizations that sometimes disappear into the shadow of athletics and campus-wide celebrations.
In preparing for the uncertainty that comes with the rest of the semester, let alone the school year, Williams has anticipated what a remote transition would look like. In doing so, she has begun teaching members how to use the necessary resources ─ like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Fortunately, she had great leadership from last year to follow.
“Since last year in the spring we had to go remote, it’s given me a little bit of an insight on how to work around it,” she said. “Emery (Eisner) did a really great job of getting an online team together last year. Once we went remote, she reached out to everyone and saw who had the necessary tools to work remotely because some people didn’t.”
And now Williams has done the same for her team.
Despite the unavoidable challenges brought about by the virus, Williams said she has confidence in their ability to put together a yearbook that accurately reflects what this school year has looked like, even if it takes extra brainstorming and creativity to do it.
WSOE 89.3 FM
While hanging out with one another in the station ─ on their cool couches and underneath mood lights strung from the ceiling ─ is no longer a safe option for members of WSOE 89.3 FM, the organization has found different ways to enhance the unparalleled community aspect that so regularly characterizes it.
In many ways, the transition to remote communication hasn’t been easy, but it’s been especially challenging for WSOE, whose organization-wide gatherings are what allow members to “meet new people and they get to hear about new shows,” general manager Mabel Kitchens ’21 said. But, the most important part of the gatherings, whether they’re in person or over Zoom, has been recognizing and praising DJs for their shows by handing out awards. And Kitchens knows that from experience.
For Kitchens, the awards are impactful, as they prove to the DJs that their shows are being listened to. In fact, receiving an award her freshman year was the moment she knew she wanted to pursue the organization further, and she knows that could be the case for other members, too. “So those awards have to keep happening,” she said.
It’s no secret that operating a radio station entails managing highly touched surfaces and microphones. And because COVID is a highly infectious respiratory virus, normal operating conditions don’t work. The only possibility of a somewhat normal semester required extensive preparation and a lot of teamwork.
“WSOE was going to be one of the hot spots for contamination if we were to resume everything in the fall, so I knew that I was going to have to make a lot of adjustments─more than regular classrooms or other organizations that can meet independently,” Kitchens said.
But, with the help and collaboration of the executive staff, faculty advisors and an alumnus at Sirius XM, Mabel and her team were able to brainstorm alternatives. One of them? Pre-recording shows.
“Typically, when you go live, you go into the station when your show time is and you press a button and you’re live for an hour,” Kitchens said. “What we’re doing now is we’re asking everyone to pre-record, which means they’re doing the actual recording outside of the station.”
Many documents, training guides and shared Google folders later, members have been taught how to record audio on their phones and then edit through post-production programs, like Adobe Audition, from wherever they are. According to Kitchens, “it keeps things normal as far as you hear on the radio, but on the back end of things it’s a few more steps.”