Remote control: Thoughts on journalism in a remote world

The world changed in March of 2020. And over the course of the past year, the world has continued to change in its own unique way.

But for the journalists of this online news magazine, the proverbially show demanded to go on. So, tasked with continuing the work of student journalism while in remote, a small group of returning staffers had to change alongside the rest of the world.

Today, they look back on how far they’ve come … and where they’ll go next.

Aryav Bothra, junior

For much of my life, I’ve always dreamt of being a journalist like you see on the news — where my life existed between the buzz of a breaking story or the welcomed frustration of a lead that wasn’t quite right. But when you’re stuck at home with a computer as your only form of social interaction, dreams tend to turn into reality in unexpected ways.

I’ll be the first to say, though, that despite the unique struggles of being a journalist during a pandemic, it’s taken exactly that for me to better understand and appreciate the art. 

Much of the news I read and watch has felt like a race against COVID-19, reporting on one breaking story before another grim milestone becomes reality. And while, as a student publication, our reporting doesn’t track the pandemic to that extent, our writing has been completely transformed. 

I came into this year with a routine of sorts, publishing my monthly restaurant reviews and occasional personality profiles with precise calibration after months of experience. But in light of the pandemic, restaurants were shut down and schools became virtual. 

Journalism as I knew it had quite literally ceased to exist. 

But it’s in this discomfort that COVID-19 challenged me to be adaptable — that I learned to be a journalist. 

The pandemic played a huge role in the year’s tense political state — especially around the election — which empowered me to offer my own perspective on our government. As I became more politically aware and socially conscious, I began writing political columns on topics such as Trump’s presidency and Asian hate. The creative writing style was much more free-form than my previous publications and, in a sense, liberating. 

And with this unique platform I had to share my opinion with the world, I really began to feel more empowered as I considered my place in politics as both a student and a journalist. I have the responsibility to act as a platform for civil discourse and discussion, paving the way for other young people to play a more active role in our democracy. By writing these columns and really coming to understand the role the media plays in our elections and government, my world of journalism has expanded from simple restaurant reviews to something much more societally conscious. 

And I suppose that’s the duality of the pandemic: on one hand, it’s completely transformed reporting, yet on the other hand, it’s opened the doors for more young people to voice their opinions and call for change. We may not have the traditional sports events or debate competitions to report on this year, but our writing is more important than ever. 

I used to feel that a student publication couldn’t really emulate a “real” publication — in the sense that the “real” world largely exists outside the four walls of Oswego East. But, thanks to you COVID, I realize that as a student journalist I have the power to bring the world to Oswego East. By voicing my opinions and encouraging others to do the same, I can ensure that — as students — we remain engaged in the political and societal processes that govern us. 

With these realizations in mind, serving as an editor this year provided me the opportunity to help guide others to understand the same. And despite not being able to conduct in-person interviews, attend school events, or dine at restaurants, I would say this was my most successful year of journalism yet. 

I learned that a true journalist is constantly evolving and adapting — and if a pandemic didn’t show me that tenacity, I don’t know what could. 

Elizabeth Dyer, senior

Walking into high school four years ago, I never would have predicted leaving Oswego East as one of the editors of the school news magazine — or that I would be a member of the journalism program at all. My introduction to journalistic writing itself was unintentional. My AP Language teacher sophomore year Mr. Query happened to be the advisor of the Howl and told me I might enjoy writing for the publication. So I reluctantly tinkered with my course load for one year to fit in an elective English class. 

But just one year. 

That would be it. 

Come junior year, I was a “J1” student learning about leads, headlines, interviewing, all the ins & outs of journalism. I was pushed out of my comfort zone to talk to random students in the Commons and learn their stories. Some of those brief conversations turned into interviews, and some interviews even evolved into friendships.

But most of all, I was learning that journalists hold the power to share other people’s stories. By writing a piece, I found that I was essentially holding a microphone for students to tell our community their feelings, goals, and passions. I’m so thankful to have had an opportunity to interact with so many students and come to appreciate this responsibility that journalists have.

In the latter half of my junior year, I discovered that I enjoyed reviewing films and shows as well as working with our school’s Fine Arts Department, solidifying a spot for myself in the Howl’s Arts & Entertainment section. At this point, Mr. Query asked me to consider taking journalism again my senior year. Despite the fact that I had already put some credits on hold and would have to make more changes to my senior schedule to fit everything in, I knew that I couldn’t not take journalism. The Howl represented more than an English elective to me but one of my favorite classes of the day where I got to tap into my creativity and engage with the school in a unique way. So I signed up for Journalism 2, expecting a similar experience as my junior year. 

What we ended up getting was a pandemic. All bets were off. Due to how there were fewer activities to report on during remote learning, those stories often went to incoming J1 students and I found myself writing more reviews this year but enjoying the class and style of writing nonetheless. This year even became exciting in watching the Howl overcome incredible obstacles put up by COVID. With a small staff we published 100 pieces, won the SPC Conference competition, and I even got the chance to compete at IHSA Sectionals and State this year — events canceled last spring due to the pandemic. 

I couldn’t be more thankful for all that Digital Journalism pushed me to achieve. What started as a year of trying something new transformed into one of the groups I am most proud to be a part of. I can’t wait to see all our journalism program accomplishes as it tells East’s stories in the years to come.

Alex Prince, senior

March 12th, 2020.

It was the second T.A.L.K. of the year.

I was happy.

I was grateful.

I felt invincible.

The next day, everything changed.

As a natural introvert, being told to self-isolate is one of the greatest things you could possibly hear. It gives you an excuse to stay home on the weekends, choosing instead to curl up in your bed with Netflix and a snack. It also gives you a sense of independence, as you and only you are responsible for the circumstances of your day.

But there was something unique about this alone time. I could never focus on myself the way I normally would. There was so much going around me: sick people around the world; family and friends struggling with finances and mental health issues; social injustice to my own people. I no longer felt peace by being alone and to myself. I felt selfish. 

Was I, though? I had given my best to Oswego East and the community for the past four years of my life. Through countless clubs, organizations, service projects, and volunteer work, I should have felt more than accomplished in my contributions to society. 

Perhaps it’s due to my tendency to always take the blame for every problem around me. Rather than allowing the Earth to do its natural rotation and for the circumstances of the world to play out as they are designed to, I always fill my days with busy work, hoping to fill the void that exists in the space around me. While on the surface this may seem admirable, I found myself realizing that I was working more for others than I was for myself. I found myself realizing that I was mainly doing the work for the accolades and not the pure enjoyment of it.

In my time of self-reflection, I found myself realizing that I always made everything about me.

Whenever participating in an activity at school, I always considered the personal benefits I would receive, be it a better college resume or a special award at the end of the semester. I put these benefits above any other desire or motivation to participate in these activities, thus making each endeavor an attempt at self-fulfillment rather than gaining the knowledge and respect by taking myself out of the equation.

Which brings me to Digital Journalism. Like my other activities, I initially wrote to prove something to myself: that my voice in the writing world had value, and I could help contribute to the publication. 

In this past year while locked down, I have realized there is a lot more to writing, especially in this class. It’s about uniting people and helping them to see new perspectives. It’s about appreciating the world around you and honoring it. It’s about taking the spotlight off of you and breathing life into another subject instead.

This revelation may not be particularly shocking to some, but to me, it has renewed my love for writing, social activism, and community involvement. It’s no longer just about me; it’s about everyone around me.

As I approach the end of my senior year, I’m happy.

I’m grateful.

And I’m excited for what’s to come.

Congratulations to the senior student journalists, high school seniors, and all early graduates leaving Oswego East High School this spring!

What is past is prologue.

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