Slack channels and 24/7 Zooms: A look inside TSL’s virtual newsroom

A screenshot of a group Zoom meeting.
TSL senior staff members meet over Zoom for a weekly meeting and check in. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

From in-person production nights in Pomona College’s Walker Lounge to online production nights on a Zoom room that’s accessible 24/7, much has changed about The Student Life’s newsroom from spring 2020 to fall 2020. One thing has remained the same, however: TSL’s commitment to producing a weekly newspaper (or, in this case, newsletter) and keeping the 7C community informed.

TSL is no stranger to virtual workspaces.

“Even before [the coronavirus pandemic], we did a lot of our work online — we did a lot of emailing people, calling offices; we interviewed people over the phone and over email; we used Slack all the time already,” news staff writer Siena Swift PO ’22 said.

But this is the first semester in which all of TSL has been virtual. From previous semesters, there were already many online infrastructures in place, such as the use of Slack for communication and Google Docs for drafts and edits. 

However, there were also many noticeable differences this semester, such as the halt of printing a physical paper and the loss of the TSL office in Walker Lounge as a physical meeting space.  

“I think for everyone, the real downside has been the loss of community, the loss of feeling like you have a physical place where you belong, which was really instrumental for me,” Managing Editor Donnie Denome CG ’21 (who is my editor’s editor) said.

A graduate student works on their computer while their ginger cat looks on.
Managing Editor Donnie Denome CG ’21 is joined by their cat Gritty. (Donnie Denome • The Student Life)

For many first-year TSL staffers, this has meant that they are now writing about events and places on campuses they’ve never visited before. 

“It’s really weird, writing about a campus that I’m yet to be a part of, but it’s honestly the only thing that’s made me feel the slightest bit connected to the 5C community,” news staff writer Jenna McMurtry PO ’24 said.

In response to the loss of physical spaces for printing and working, social media has become an important lifeline for TSL to share stories, with the official TSL Instagram’s following having more than doubled since March.

“We consistently have had better social media metrics this semester than previous semesters, and that, for me, just shows how important social media is to us,” Denome said. “It is supplanting our print presence in a way that I did not expect.”

Even during the transition to an online workspace, TSL staffers have consciously committed to providing the 7C community with important breaking news stories as quickly as possible. 

“I think for everyone, the real downside has been the loss of community, the loss of feeling like you have a physical place where you belong, which was really instrumental for me,” — Donnie Denome CG ’21

“It’s really important that once information is available, we are reporting it really promptly and accurately,” Editor-in-Chief Maria Heeter SC ’22 (who is the editor of both of my editors) said. “That’s something that I said that I would do if I became editor-in-chief, [and] it’s something I’ve been really proud of TSL doing.” 

A female college student sits at a desk and works on a laptop
Editor-in-Chief Maria Heeter SC ’22 reads over articles at the kitchen table. (Maria Heeter • The Student Life)

In some ways, the online format has even made it easier to develop and share breaking news stories.

“We’re all on our computers all the time, so as soon as we get that email from one of the colleges that something new is happening, [editors] send it out into the Slack channel, and then a senior staff writer or a news associate or editorial assistant will jump on it immediately and turn that piece around in a couple of hours,” Swift said. 

Managing Editor Yasmin Elqutami PO ’22 echoed the various effects of the shift to the online format.

“Although we have lost our central hub, it’s a lot easier to access one another now, which I am very thankful for,” she said.

The process of developing and publishing important news stories is a highly collaborative one, involving staffers from the design, audience, photo and news desks and the editors.

“Although we have lost our central hub, it’s a lot easier to access one another now, which I am very thankful for,” — Yasmin Elqutami PO ’22

“All of those people [work] together to get out a breaking news story that fast, and that’s why we can get things out that are that polished and that prompt,” Heeter said.

TSL has also focused on quickly circulating important news from all campuses in recognition of how hard it can be to keep up with announcements from other schools with everybody decentralized. 

“If you’re at Claremont McKenna, for example, you don’t know that Scripps has decided to pivot to an entirely online semester until there’s a 7C announcement, which is coming from [TSL],” Heeter said.

Staff members also hope the focus on quickly providing updates from all schools will help preserve community among the schools.

“I feel like it adds to the consortium energy, because otherwise you might only be focused on what your school is doing, even though what other schools do will directly impact you as well,” Photo Editor Talia Bernstein SC ’21 said.

Even beyond breaking news, however, TSL staffers have continued working to provide in-depth, engaging stories from the broader 7C community. 

“We have been consistently putting out life and style and opinions articles on a wide array of topics, despite the fact that we have people all over the world. We have good sports coverage for a semester where there are essentially no sports at all,” Denome said.

A female college student sits on a couch alongside a black dog and works on a laptop.
Life and style editor Claire DuMont SC ’23 works alongside her dog Henry. (Claire DuMont • The Student Life)

While the writing process has remained fairly stable during the shift to working online, photographers have had to make many changes to the ways they work this semester.

“There’s no in-person events, and we can’t profile people in person and connect with them that way for taking photos, so it’s a lot of courtesies from other parties and a lot of stock photos that we’ve already taken and a lot of staged photos at home with your family or the things you’ve been around,” Bernstein said. 

In a semester filled with more digital communication and emails than ever before, the content produced by TSL this semester has also helped break down and circulate news that might have otherwise slipped by.

“Sometimes faculty have contacted me and been like, ‘I didn’t even hear about this until TSL wrote an article about it,’ so we really are the only news source for a lot of people,” Swift said.

For many staffers, TSL is a big time commitment, especially during high news cycles such as the recent 2020 presidential election, with news writers writing multiple articles in a single week. Despite the significant time commitment, however, TSL staffers often feel great enthusiasm for their work.

“It’s probably the only thing I could be doing for near 40 hours a week that doesn’t feel like I’m doing it for nearly 40 hours a week,” Elqutami said.

Overall, despite the challenges and the unanticipated format of the semester, TSL staffers have predominantly risen to the challenge.

“I feel like this is honestly our best semester of writing, and we’ve produced so much amazing content, not just writing-wise but also social media and also photos,” Swift said. “I’m really proud of how the TSL community has come together.”

Mena Bova is a staff writer for TSL’s Life and Style section, and works closely with many of the editors mentioned in this piece.

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