The first issue of The Brown and White after Lehigh went remote

The Brown and White's first printed issue on Friday, March 20 after Lehigh transitioned to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Matt Veto)

The Brown and White Continues to Publish During Pandemic

The student-run newspaper has published its print edition continuously since 1894.

Story by

Stephen Gross

On Wednesday of Lehigh’s spring break, March 11, editors of the student-run newspaper The Brown and White held an emergency meeting with their faculty advisor Matt Veto, professor of practice in journalism and communication: College campuses across the country were closing down because of the threat of the coronavirus and transitioning to online courses. What if Lehigh followed suit?

The Brown and White’s reaction? “Let’s go.”

Editor-in-chief Jake Epstein '20, managing editor Jordan Wolman '21 and Veto connected by phone for the quick brainstorming session.

“At no stage was there ever any entertainment of not publishing,” Veto says of The Brown and White, which just celebrated its 125th anniversary in January and prides itself on having published continuously since 1894.

Press plates of The Brown and White

The press plates of the Friday, March 20 issue of The Brown and White at TN Printing. (Matt Veto)

By 11 a.m. a contingency plan was in place. An hour later, it was needed: Lehigh announced it was moving classes online for two weeks. The next day the university extended remote learning to the rest of the semester.

Epstein was skiing in the Colorado Mountains with spotty cell phone reception when Lehigh made the announcement. When he reached an area with service he saw the email and his phone “exploded” with messages through text, Slack and social media.

In The Brown and White’s first full department meeting on Thursday, March 12, Epstein says, different ideas for publishing were floated, including to continue with publication twice per week but with half the number of pages, or once per week but double the normal number of pages. Design editor Nicole Walker '20, who was having microphone issues on the Zoom call with eight other editors and Veto, texted Wolman, prodding him to speak up.

“I didn't want to break the tradition of printing twice a week because I know that's been something integral to The Brown and White since its inception,” Walker says.

Wolman relayed her concerns to the group.

“I just keep thinking about 126 years,” Veto recalls Wolman saying. “Do we want to be that group that puts a stop to that? Let's think about how we can open up our content avenues and get more creative.’”

They quickly decided they would continue publishing two days each week.

The image that stuck in Epstein’s head was the editor’s lounge on the top floor of the newsroom, which has print copies from recent semesters. He’d like to return in the fall and see a seamless continuation of the print product.

“It would be, if you didn't look at the actual headlines, like nothing ever happened,” Epstein says. “Sure, if you read the news, you'll know what happened. But as far as, at first glance, we never stopped printing, everything was business as usual and I think that determination carried everyone forward.”

Screen grab of Nicole Walker designing The Brown and White

A screenshot of Nicole Walker '20 remotely designing the March 20 issue of The Brown and White. (Nicole Walker)

Even before Lehigh decided to remotely hold classes, The Brown and White had planned for the rest of the semester to be online-only in case of  a worst-case scenario.

“We thought it was best just to prepare for the worst case scenario, which is that we would be all [remote],” Epstein says. “It was better to prepare for the absolute worst case than to have nothing or to have it done halfway and then be grasping for straws. We were definitely prepared for being remote the rest of the semester, which I think helped us.”

The conversation for the editors centered on what the content and workflow would look like going forward. With a staff of over 150 students working remotely and physically apart from one another, workflow becomes extremely important, Veto says. Then, they began to review production nights, step-by-step, which included figuring out how story budget meetings would be held and stories would be edited. They also discussed how reporting, designing and taking photographs would be accomplished.

Veto says they realized right away they were going to get a deluge of breaking news, and knowing that, they needed to prepare. The work required a bigger team, and they weren’t going to isolate themselves into the typical sections of a newspaper, such as news, life and sports.

“It was all editors, all reporters, all hands on deck covering life in the coronavirus,” Veto says.

The Brown and White’s first stories after Lehigh transitioned to remote learning included national news and the impact the coronavirus was having on the campus, its students and faculty and its community, such as students experiencing the country’s first containment zone in New Rochelle, New York, and students and faculty adjusting to online classes. They also posted Pennsylvania news stories, such as the first coronavirus death in the state as well as the impact on the state’s primary election.

An online transportation photo gallery was also posted, featuring images in airports around the country and in London and the New York City subway, which were taken by newspaper staff and Lehigh community members. They also launched a city documentation series on Instagram, which Esptein says will appear on their website, that featured staff photos documenting empty cities such as Boston, New York, San Francisco and Minneapolis.

Epstein says they’ve actually been producing more content because of the surge in news and taking the opportunity of covering stories they wouldn’t normally cover but can with a staff now spread across the globe.

“In the last couple weeks, we've completely expanded our coverage into something that we might never have the opportunity to do again,” Epstein says. “And that's something that I reminded the editors and the staff a lot at the beginning. Yes, this is a horrible situation. But at the same time we have the opportunity to do something that we've never been able to do before and hopefully we never have to do again because we would never want this situation again, but while we're in it, let's make the most of our staff being stretched across the world. We've done a great job of that so far.”

Additionally, The Brown and White is relying on crowdsourcing content, whether it be students at-large or alumni. They’re working on adding a form to their website’s homepage that will allow users to submit their story and visual content.

Katie McNulty '22 delivering copies of The Brown and White

Katie McNulty '22 delivers copies of The Brown and White to a community drop location at The Goose. (Matt Veto)

As The Brown and White organized their workflow for at least the next few months, Veto had to think about how online classes would change his instruction. While The Brown and White is a student production, there are still classroom elements. And he also teaches JOUR 9 (Brown and White photography) and JOUR 12 (Brown and White videography).

He realized the additional challenges, especially the ability to obtain photos and videos to accompany each article. He says his photo editor Annalise Kelloff had the idea of building photo essays, which added a whole new element to his classes and the newspaper.

“We have dedicated photographers who are now dispersed,” Veto says. “Maybe instead of writing an article about their hometowns, they go out and show the pictures of the empty street, the empty stores, all of that kind of stuff. Or another idea is maybe there's this one corner cafe that is the last thing open in a town, and that could become a slideshow. As long as everyone is practicing social distancing and keeping themselves and others healthy, we're open to all sorts of ideas.”

The delivery of the online product of The Brown and White has not changed, the website remains and the weekly newsletter can still be delivered by email. The delivery process of the print product has been altered a bit, but its production did not change much either. The designers have their tools for InDesign available and PDFs are sent to Epstein, who can upload them to the printer when he has reviewed them. TN Printing, The Brown and White’s printer, is operating as usual. While most students, faculty and staff are no longer on campus, The Brown and White is still delivering to people’s homes for those who sign up for a subscription. As of April 6, there are 312 print subscribers. They are still printing 2,000 copies, many of which will be held for future internal distribution, and 110 copies being distributed at community drop locations.

Issue arose the first press night — the Wednesday after spring break — with the initial design process away from Coppee Hall. Walker says she was designing on her laptop from 4 p.m. until 5 a.m. the next morning.

“It was a big learning curve for me to be able to design everything on a laptop because usually I use the desktops in Coppee Hall,” Walker says.

Epstein told most of the staff to go to bed between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., when he realized it was still going to be a few more hours before the paper was finished. Wolman assisted until about 4 a.m. And Epstein, who wrote a story around 3 a.m. to help fill space, stayed up with Walker until the job was complete.

Walker says each press night since has been less stressful and has gone more smoothly. She now works just a little longer than the six hours she did at the beginning of the semester in Coppee Hall.

What has helped, she says, is the support everyone gives each other, and still getting to see everyone on Zoom twice each week.

“I really think, especially these first couple of issues, as we think about our placement in history and how important, and how different, and how unique this moment is, the editors are not taking that lightly,” Veto says. “They're really ready to put out a solid product in recognition that this is going to be a newspaper that's going to be hanging on the wall somewhere. It's one of those papers that documented one of the most interesting and crazy times of our world.

Story by

Stephen Gross

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