Working from home: Paly journalists connect community while maintaining distance

Allie Feitzinger, Editor-in-Chief

Senior Emma Donelly-Higgins remembers a buzzing fifth period classroom on Friday, March 13 — the staff’s final in-person meeting of the 2019-2020 school year. Less than an hour prior, the Palo Alto Unified School District announced a school closure effective that afternoon. As the former hybrid editor in chief of features magazine Verde Magazine faced a room brimming with student journalists, Donelly-Higgins and her co-editors rapidly worked to formulate a plan for at-home production. 

About a week before, the leadership team anticipated that printing Volume 21, Issue 4, was not a feasible endeavor, so Donelly-Higgins spent Verde’s final in-person class for the school year working to adapt as quickly as possible, brainstorming with staff members about which stories could be pushed to a possible print issue later in the spring and which could be converted to digital articles.

Donelly-Higgins experience was shared by hundreds of Palo Alto High School publication students and thousands of others across the country. Suddenly unable to meet in person and facing unprecedented uncertainty, editors had to make challenging decisions to adapt to remote production if they wanted to continue fulfilling their missions to provide their communities with accurate, timely information.

For Paly journalists, the introduction of three weeks of “flexible learning” immediately following school closure announcements proved yet another obstacle, one which illuminated the drive of dutiful student journalists. With classes unable to require or accredit work, articles could technically only be produced on a volunteer basis. Despite their work not contributing to their grade-point averages, many student journalists remained both prolific and creative. 

“Seeing the Paly journalism program continue to thrive speaks to the importance of what we do and the value it holds in the community,” Donelly-Higgins stated in a message to The Paly Voice.  “For many students, journalism isn’t just an extracurricular, it is more like a job that the community relies on.”

During the flexible learning period, Verde staff members maintained communication, producing both breaking news stories and longer features while also focusing on the welfare of the staff members.

“We reminded each other that the most important thing was the wellbeing and health of our staffers, so we didn’t make anyone do anything and we checked in on individuals,” Donelly-Higgins stated.

Verde began a vlog series, beginning on the first day of the school closure, which currently boasts 28 videos documenting the experiences of staff members during the pandemic. On March 18, still in the initial closure period, social activism magazine Anthro Magazine released the first edition of “Corona Diaries,” a vlog series intended to provide “a window to the experience of high school students under quarantine,” according to its website.

Now, more than two months into remote learning, Paly publications, including Verde magazine, The Campanile, Anthro Magazine, The Viking, InFocus and Madrono, are still working hard to connect the community.

Staff members of Verde and newspaper The Campanile have ramped up digital content, and both publications plan on releasing a print issue and distributing through mail towards the end of the school year.

According to junior Avery Hanna, one of the new co-editors in chief of Verde, the magazine reduced its page length while increasing digital work to provide more flexibility to staff members. Some of this online work can be glimpsed in the 20 pandemic-related news stories published on the site. 

For Verde, and many other publications, the school closure coincided with the transition to new leadership.

“So far, producing a magazine has gone better than I had expected,” junior Laura Malagrino, another co-editor-in-chief of Verde, stated. “It’s especially hard to be motivated at a time like this, but we’ve found that a large part of our staff has been interactive both on Zoom calls and in their work in general.”

Malagrino anticipates that, ultimately, these experiences will allow the new generation of leaders to grow. 

“Working from home has taught me a lot of different strategies and techniques to make the cycle more efficient, and it’ll definitely change the way we run things once we’re back in the classroom,” Malagrino stated. “I’m very excited to be a part of such a unique issue and show the community just how dedicated Paly journalism can be.”

The Campanile also experienced a leadership transition during the closure, and began its final production cycle on May 4. According to Junior Adora Zheng, newly minted co-editor in chief of The Campanile, the staff will conduct “virtual production periods” over Zoom and use the Adobe Creative Cloud interface to compile the issue. 

“We’ve had to be very creative in making decisions on how the cycle will work given that it’ll be done remotely, and we’ve had a lot of help from Satt [Rod Satterthwaite], our adviser, with developing the smoothest plans we can for virtual production,” Zheng stated. “Nothing like this has ever happened before, but we’re doing our best to adapt to the circumstances and we’re grateful that our staff has taken the changes in stride and is continuing to work hard during such a tough time.”

This academic year’s final issue of The Campanile should be mailed home to students in early June.

When making decisions about the publication’s future during the COVID-19 crisis, Anthro adopted a different approach, choosing to remain digitally exclusive for the remainder of the school year.

According to junior Michaela Seah, Anthro’s social media manager, Anthro is maintaining a schedule for producing content, though the publication will not distribute physical copies for the remainder of the school year.

“We have been having weekly Zoom meetings and we keep in contact with each other through messaging,” Seah stated. “I would say that I definitely miss talking to the staff in public but we haven’t been stopped by the pandemic.”

 The Viking sports magazine will not produce another physical issue this school year, and all content will be digitally exclusive, with one notable exception. Volunteers from multiple publications ensured students received physical copies of the Viking Women’s Issue.

According to senior Yael Sarig, former co-editor-in-chief of Viking, the transition to exclusively online content has included a larger number of stories for Viking, much of which diverges from constant COVID-19 coverage.

“One thing I’ve appreciated about Issue Six is how the staff has made an effort to produce content that doesn’t only center around coronavirus,” Sarig stated. “I think one of the nicest capabilities of sports normally is to offer a distraction and an escape from reality, so sportswriting can serve the same role in a time like this.” 

Sarig also helped pioneer the Viking Women’s Issue, a special issue of Viking Magazine focused on women in sports and intended to help address gender inequality in sports coverage. Physical copies of the issue were mailed out May 11 despite disruptions to production caused by school closure. According to Sarig, the staff’s perseverance in continuing the issue was a point of pride.

“I think the Women’s Issue is one of my greatest triumphs of high school — we’re still managing to create a print issue and send our normal copies home to all Paly homes,” Sarig stated. 

On the video front, members of the broadcast news program InFocus have also had to alter their content, as staff members traditionally create and broadcast content during the school day. According to senior Max Rosenblum, technical producer for InFocus, staff members have been producing content on their own and posting on the publication’s social media accounts. 

Students eagerly awaiting the 2019-2020 yearbook may receive the books on their doorsteps, according to journalism teacher Brian Wilson. Though the details will be released in coming weeks, students should confirm their purchase or buy a yearbook on the Paly web store if they would like to receive a book before school returns to campus.

Students can thank the hard work and foresight of the yearbook staff for ensuring a 2019-2020 yearbook. Wary of a possible school closure, the staff transferred files from Paly’s server to Google Drive to ensure students could work from home.

“There were a number of challenges that the yearbook staff had to deal with in trying to finish the book remotely, but they’ve been superstars in being on top of things,” Wilson stated.

Wilson advises several staffs, including Madrono, Viking and C Magazine. As an adviser, he’s been able to witness students rallying together from home and continuing coverage despite being in the midst of a global pandemic.

“The journalism students have totally stepped up,” Wilson stated. “Whether it’s finishing the yearbook under the most challenging circumstances I’ve ever encountered in 23 years of advising books, or it’s the Viking students heading up an unbelievably cool Women in Sports issue, or the C Magazine students getting their first-ever mailed-home issue out in April, I am ridiculously proud of my staffs. I know these aren’t ideal conditions, but they say that strong character is developed under difficult circumstances, and I fully believe that these students will be ready for whatever the new world throws at them.”

Ultimately, scholastic journalists have expended significant efforts to provide students and their communities with information.

“Even though most of us are stuck at home, there is so much happening in the world right now and journalism is one way we can continue to stay connected to the community and each other,” Donelly-Higgins stated. “I am thrilled that Verde and other publications are continuing to produce high quality work at this time. ”

Editor’s Note: The Paly journalism program hosts an extensive number of publications. Students can see how other publications are hard at work by browsing the full list of Paly publications found on the Paly Media Arts Center website.