Reflecting on The Phoenix One Year Into the Pandemic

March 11, 2021 marks one full year since the World Health Organization Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It also marks a year since President Smith sent an email to students stating that Spring Break would be extended a week and classes temporarily moved online, at least until the college figured out what to do. At the time, while some students had an inkling that they would not be returning for the rest of the 2019-2020 academic year, most awaited a return to campus that would not happen.

Compared to life in the United States before that fateful announcement on March 11, life now is unrecognizable. Some have suffered far more than others because of the pandemic, but there is no one whose life has remained completely intact. One of the largest changes is the underlying stress which accompanies every aspect of life. It is impossible to avoid stress and burnout in an alien world where a simple trip to the grocery store or gas station could spell out hospitalization, death, or permanent organ damage. Many college students left campus on a random weekend in early March, not realizing that they wouldn’t see their peers again for a year except through a computer screen, or that they wouldn’t see their peers again, period. The unrelenting weight of trauma and grief has become the baseline context for every interaction.

One of the innumerable changes to everyday life in the past year is the shift in The Phoenix’s role on campus and how The Phoenix operates. Before the pandemic, The Phoenix published and distributed print copies every week, a model to which we fully intend to return once all students can safely return to campus and resume in-person activities. Our editorial board gathered in our office in Parrish every Wednesday night until the wee hours of the morning to polish our publication before printing on Thursday. No team can ever truly be seamless, but publishing The Phoenix was relatively smooth because of the convenience and luxury of communicating in-person.

Since March 2020, The Phoenix has shifted to an entirely-online publication. Our role in informing the campus community, like that of many student news publications across the country, has also changed. Because of the lack of communication about COVID-19 cases, mitigation, and mitigation enforcement procedures from administrators to students, The Phoenix has become a primary provider of essential information to students. Because Swarthmore students are now scattered across the globe with massive communication gaps resulting from the lack of in-person interaction between students, The Phoenix is one of the only campus platforms with adequate student outreach.

Frankly, running a publication like The Phoenix entirely online is not sustainable. “Unprecedented times” is little more than a trite platitude at this point, but for The Phoenix, it rings true. There is no guide for moving an entirely in-person publication online because of a global pandemic and no tried-and-true method for preventing severe Zoom fatigue among Phoenix staff and writers after a year of only interacting through thirteen-inch computer screens. It is difficult to find a happy medium between avoiding terminal Zoom fatigue and our obligation as a newspaper to step up in a time of widespread misinformation and disheartening opacity from those in positions of power. The Phoenix’s EdBoard is not immune to the unique difficulties of simultaneously working and being full-time students during the pandemic. At the same time, as we wrote in a September 2020 editorial, our obligation to provide factual information is not one that we take lightly. It’s a duty that we will always take seriously and have worked day-and-night to fulfill since our inception, but especially since that damning, world-shattering announcement on March 11, 2020.

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