Elizabeth Seils is something of a newspaper veteran, given the fact that she’s been on staff at The Vidette for two years. She made the progression from reporter to news editor, and now to the top slot as editor in chief. The senior from Chicago couldn’t have predicted her tenure would be dominated by a global pandemic, but it’s an experience that only adds to her veteran status. These days, much of the newspaper’s work is getting done from afar.
“Most of us work remotely, but I do think it’s important that we come together once a week to put the paper together,” Seils said.
That would be on Mondays, which serve as production day for a newspaper that publishes on Tuesdays. Seils oversees a core group of about 10 staffers in editorial, which includes reporters, editors, an artistic director, and a social media manager. Seils said the group has done a great job of adjusting.
“I’m pretty proud of the speed and quality with which we’ve adapted,” she said. “I don’t think you can tell the difference between the editions that we’ve produced remotely from when we were together putting the paper out.”
John Plevka, The Vidette’s general manager, has been impressed observing the dedication of his young journalists to such an important story.
“They seem to recognize the enormity of the story,” Plevka said, adding that he’s been “really proud of their professionalism.”
Back in the spring the news staff found out when the rest of campus did that life was about to get interrupted and so was the newspaper operation.
“We decided to keep publishing a paper and not printing it,” Plevka said.
The editorial staff went to work remotely and produced a digital paper once a week. That kept up until this fall when they went back to putting out a print edition once campus started to come back to life. Those early digital issues hold some significance, Plevka said.
“It was kind of neat to have something online to cover the pandemic,” he said.
The biggest change in gathering the news now is to keep everyone safe. The School of Communication instructed Plevka that staff can work from home if they are more comfortable. He said everyone has been good about facial coverings and physical distancing. Seils agreed that caution is a top priority.
“We always emphasize safety,” she said. “We tell reporters that if they don’t feel safe covering something, we’ll send someone who is OK going.”
In addition, Seils said the office now has a lot of Plexiglass shields, which some editors have converted to bulletin boards, adorning them with Post-It notes. One advantage of working as a print media reporter, she said, is that quotes are still pretty simple to get even when wearing a mask, and it’s not hard to do interviews at a distance. There is another positive she’s noticed during the pandemic that’s come from holding meetings outdoors.
“We meet outside to strategize and to talk about story ideas and tips, usually outside Fell Hall since we’re all COM majors,” Seils said. “In the fall weather, I’ve found that it has actually breathed new energy into the process.”
Plevka said he knows that everyone on campus will have to be smart and careful to keep things going, but he’s happy that campus is not the “ghost town” it felt like in the spring.
“We plan to continue to print as long as people are on campus,” he said. “We’re still documenting history. It’s still a hellishly fascinating story.”
This story is part one of three in a series profiling student media organizations on campus. Check back at News.IllinoisState.edu for updates on WZND and TV-10.
Apply now for 2021.