Amelia Eichel, managing editor (left) and Hanna Merzbach, editor-in-chief (right). Photo by Jo Tabacek.

Letter from the editors: why journalism remains important in the coronavirus crisis

When we first heard that Lewis & Clark would be going online, we faced a decision: to print or not to print this issue of The Pioneer Log. Like many other organizations across the country, we did not have a contingency plan for a disturbance of this size, let alone a global pandemic.

Until now, we have had sparse coverage of COVID-19 because, before this last week, its effects on the LC community were fairly minimal. When the overseas trips in China were canceled, the virus still seemed so distant. Within no time, it was in our own backyard. In our most recent issue, we covered the growing number of cases in Portland and LC’s subsequent reaction. But even then, we did not expect to be in the position we are in now.

Although we, as a news organization, have been trying to join the 21st century and adapt our content to online, we are still far from achieving this goal. We exist in this tiny bubble where there is actually still demand for print newspapers, where we have the opportunity to individually hand papers to each of our readers every other Friday and see the visible impact that our coverage has on our small campus.

We typically only publish articles every two weeks with our print issue, which feels hectic to us but is nowhere near a 24-hour news cycle. While we have given our website and Instagram a substantial facelift this semester, as well as developed our first podcast series, The PioPod, we are still far from being a modern news source — heck, many people still do not know we have a website (piolog.com).

So, when we heard that all classes would be going online by this past Wednesday and that most people would not be on campus, we had a few options. We could halt operations altogether, we could go completely online or we could print one last issue this semester. We immediately recognized that this is a historic time for the entire world, and for the LC community. As information has been coming in sporadically from administrators and different groups on campus, we saw it as our role to fill in the gaps in information and record this moment for generations to come.

We ultimately decided to publish the most pressing information on our website immediately, but to still print one last issue filled with stories about the pandemic. For the past week, we have been documenting the multitude of stories on and off campus where LC students are feeling the effects of the virus.

Our hard-working team of editors, most of whom have never had a journalism class (ourselves included), have dedicated themselves to putting out this special edition and making sure that we can include as many perspectives as possible. We talked to students who are stranded in Morocco and Ecuador. We talked to students who dedicated countless hours to organizing events that will not be realized, and spoke with seniors who are mourning the cancellation of graduation and the anticlimactic end to their college career.

While we hope to provide you with some entertainment, with an extra page of satire and some suggestions for how to use this newfound freetime, we also hope you consider the systemic shortfalls and gaps we have identified in our coverage. Sick people have always been there, but they rarely receive the attention and coverage they deserve. There is finally enough sickness to expose to the public which social and economic institutions are equipped to care for people during a crisis and which ones are not.

This crisis is showing us, along with the rest of the nation and the world, what gaps need to be filled, what changes need to be made to our organizations, institutions and systems, and our responsibility to help in those efforts. The Pioneer Log, for one, needs to continue to adapt to the changing news environment and the online format. We also need to continue to create and nurture journalists who will dedicate themselves to filling in gaps in information when that information is so desperately needed.

Our research for this issue has shown us that the people responsible for making big decisions during a crisis cannot be the same people documenting and reporting on them. Independent journalism is important because crises like these reveal who in power is capable of leading, adapting, and mobilizing, and who is not. The Trump administration has disappointed us in this regard. We believe the Lewis & Clark administration will learn from this experience and develop even better protocols for the future. We need to elect a president of the country who possesses a similar compassionate and growth mindset.

We hope this crisis will be a catalyst for change. From the federal to the local level, people were inadequately prepared for this pandemic. We hope this causes all institutions to better prepare for eventualities like these, including ecological disasters.

Although this is the last print issue of The Pioneer Log this semester, in the coming months, we will be documenting stories in the LC community. We hope to continue to cover those students trapped abroad, as well as faculty and students adjusting to online classes. We also hope to cover any changes that LC makes to its disaster protocols and educational offerings relating to crises. We would love to see new courses on mutual aid, civic engagement and public health. We know that the LC community has just become much more scattered; however, we hope to provide some sense of connection for our community. We aim to show how this community is coming together and not just how it is coming apart.

As we are both seniors, this is our last time working on a print issue of The Pioneer Log. It will be our last time spending nearly 12 hours crammed in a tiny office, straining our eyes to scrutinize every page (although we both plan to go into journalism, so you never know). We will miss our dedicated team of editors and contributors, but we are excited to see what The Pioneer Log does in the years to come. Keep on improving this place, stay informed and take care of each other!

Hanna Merzbach is the editor-in-chief and Amelia Eichel is the managing editor of The Pioneer Log.

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