To our alumni and friends,
What an extraordinary semester this has been.
Life at Student Publications was moving along quite smoothly this semester, as it had in the fall, until March 11. And, like for you, that’s when coronavirus changed our world.
First, WKU announced it was extending spring break by one week, and then going to two weeks of online classes before returning to the Hill in early April. That quickly went out the door as the coronavirus pandemic spread and turned into WKU being all but closed for the remainder of the semester.
Suddenly, our students weren’t around. Our offices were dark on most days. We were working from home. We saw each other only through the glow of a computer screen during “Zooms,” meetings on the online Zoom platform.
For the first time in any of our lives, we had to cancel the print edition of the College Heights Herald, moving rapidly to a digital-only model and inventing a daily newsletter. Our students on the Herald, the Talisman, Cherry Creative and Student Publications Advertising pivoted.
Our students and the pro staff did impressive work.
WKU’s announcement came in the middle of spring break, but a half-dozen students hustled back to Bowling Green to record the historic announcement at WKU President Timothy Caboni’s press conference. They tweeted and posted and got the news out right away, and came back with stories that put the situation into context.
Herald editor-in-chief Rebekah Alvey, who graduates Friday, reorganized the staff into shifts of on-call reporters and editors for each day of the week and led the effort to create a daily email newsletter that went out to nearly 18,000 recipients. These young journalists also began discussing how to capture the big-picture story in a significant way.
Students on the Talisman made big changes, too. They refocused on increasing online content to capture the flavor of a now far-flung student body facing the pandemic. With just days to go before deadline, Talisman editor-in-chief Olivia Mohr, who also graduates Friday, led a team that reshaped the spring issue of Talisman magazine to capture the situation.
Our Advertising and Cherry Creative teams also scrambled. The Herald had been marching toward a strong financial performance for the year, and would have come close to an ambitious $175,000 revenue goal for 2019-20. But the bottom fell out with the cancellation of the print editions, which carry most of our advertising revenue, including our lucrative specials sections FIT, Best of the Hill and Graduation. So they found ways to sell advertising into the daily newsletter, capitalizing on strong open rates. And the Cherry team, led by Hayley Robb, created a spectacular digital WKU Graduate Gallery, where proud moms and dads could post photos of their graduating kids for a nominal fee. Both will play important roles in our future.
In the midst of all this, a group of alums donated enough money to allow us to piece together a way to keep paying the students who were working through the end of the semester. Thank you.
More than just pivoting, our students did good work. Amid the challenges of much tougher online classes, they did a great job covering the news of the impact the pandemic had on the WKU community. They developed new resources and workflows, held ed board and staff meetings virtually, and worked hard to keep each of the staffs feeling connected to each other and to WKU.
Their work showed both depth and context – especially the 80-page spring Talisman magazine (http://wkutalisman.com/issue-08/) and the 46-page, final spring “print” issue of the Herald (https://issuu.com/wkuherald/docs/upheaval__final_print_issue), both of which were superb.
While the pandemic has been a financial disaster for us – we will end the year with nothing in the bank, so to speak, and WKU facing massive budget cuts – it has also been a real moment of pride for WKU Student Publications.
Our students were resilient and resourceful. They adapted and did exceptional work.
Our pro staff was tireless in the efforts to reach out to students struggling and keep the students focused on good journalism and business practices. They, too, adapted and did excellent work.
While we don’t yet know how we will come out of this, we are looking to the future.
The incoming Herald editor, Laurel Deppen, has a team envisioning a new print edition that will return when the campus reopens. The incoming Talisman editor, Max Zambrano, is also looking at how to ensure the magazine reflects the breadth of the Hill and its people. Our Advertising team, with incoming ad manager Zachery McClain, is exploring new ways to focus on and expand digital and nontraditional revenue while rebuilding the print business. And the incoming Cherry Creative director, Emma Spainhoward, is working hand-in-hand with her peers as our newest division creates new ways and events that generate support for our operation.
The coming year has a lot of questions for us. The pandemic of 2020 will, no doubt, bring about some big challenges and changes, some welcome and some likely painful. But our student leaders and our pro staff are ready to enter 2020-21 working to do everything we can to control our own destiny.
We will, no doubt, be reaching out to you for your help, your ideas and your support. These are, indeed, extraordinary times. And we are blessed with extraordinary alumni and friends.
Thanks for your support,