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Student Journalists Continue Coverage of COVID-19

April 10, 2020

by Scout Brobst BA ’20

Mia Eichel and Hanna Merzbach. (Photo by Jo Tabacek)

On Wednesday, March 18, while many students were finalizing last-minute travel plans to return home and exchanging unexpected goodbyes, Hanna Merzbach BA ’20 and Mia Eichel BA ’20 were hunkered down inside their office at Templeton Campus Center, laying out The Pioneer Log’s final print issue in the wake of COVID-19.

“The decision to move classes online happened in the span of a week, and the decision about when to cancel the [study] abroad programs changed within three days because countries closed their borders without warning,” said Managing Editor Eichel. “[We] realized that it was our responsibility to document and report on what was happening.”

Eichel, alongside Editor-in-Chief Merzbach, five section editors who remained on campus, and four who were already working and studying remotely, worked through the night to lay out the issue with the most up-to-date information, tying up the final loose ends just before sunrise.

The issue, released on March 20, exclusively covered COVID-19-related stories, with the editorial team conducting dozens of interviews with students, professors, and administration in the weeks before print. The amount of news and interest among contributors led to a supersized 16-page, all-color spread.

Like all of The Pioneer Log’s biweekly issues, stories ranged from breaking news to student commentary—one story covered the Lewis & Clark students and professor stranded in Ecuador on their overseas program; another covered the challenges of transitioning STEM and fine art courses to an online format.

News Editor Lexie Boren BA ’20 penned a thank you letter to her “future alma mater” in the opinion section, echoing a common sentiment among those whose final year of college has been cut short. “I find myself simultaneously grieving and grateful to have been a part of it,” wrote Boren, speaking to her time at Lewis & Clark. “I will miss this beautiful campus, with its Dutch cobblestones and its trees that drip icy rain down the back of your shirt.”

For Merzbach and Eichel, the experience of covering COVID-19 was an invaluable crash course in journalism.

“I’m really proud of the stories we wrote about overseas, because at first not a lot of people knew that students were trapped in Morocco and in Ecuador,” says Merzbach. “Those students were able to use our stories as leverage so that they were able to get out. It felt like we had a greater purpose.”

Eichel shared a similar perspective. “This situation really made me realize how important good journalism is and what good journalists do,” she says. “Having a strong network is definitely easier when you’re reporting on a fairly small community like Lewis & Clark, but this whole situation reinforced those connections and made our role in the community as reporters and fact-checkers clearer than it has ever been.”

For now, coverage will continue, but will be released exclusively online as the majority of students have left the school and in-person classes have ceased to operate. It’s something Merzbach and Eichel figure they will play by ear, but they are hopeful that editors and contributors will continue their work through the semester.

Both Merzbach and Eichel are graduating seniors, meaning their time at The Pioneer Log will end once the semester is over, but both express interest in journalistic careers beyond their experience at Lewis & Clark. Merzbach has an interest in public radio and local reporting, while Eichel has secured a job in podcast production after graduation.

In a letter from the editors, both explained their reasoning behind maintaining coverage amidst the pressures and stresses of a global pandemic.

“We know that the LC community has just become much more scattered,” the two wrote. “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.”

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