Editors-in-chief guide The Temple News’ reporting on COVID-19

Former and current editors-in-chief discuss how The Temple News adapted to the challenges of covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawrence Ukenye (left), current editor in chief, and Madison Karas (right), former editor in chief, stand on Liacouras Walk on Sept. 25. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The news never stops and neither does the editor-in-chief at The Temple News. 

In the past four years the Temple University and North Central community have been faced with major events from a presidential election to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been the responsibility of the past three Editors-in-Chief Kelly Brennan, Madison Karas and Lawrence Ukenye, to guide The Temple News’ coverage of these major events and student’s experiences navigating them.  

The biggest challenge came with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, which forced the paper to operate virtually. Each of the three former editors-in-chief had to navigate reporting on the pandemic and leading a staff during unprecedented times. 

When Brennan became editor-in-chief in 2019, she sought to continue the work her and Gillian  McGoldrick, the 2018-2019 editor-in-chief, were doing to redesign the website and focus more on intersectionality in all of The Temple News’s reporting, Brennan said.

However, everything changed in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic forced The Temple News to stop printing weekly and shift to publishing entirely online. 

The Sunday before Temple made the announcement to go virtual, Brennan recalls standing at the news cubicle and talking to the staff about transitioning to a fully-digital publication, she said.

“Everyone at every desk had this collective moment of, ‘oh this is going to impact everyone at Temple and how do we address that?’” Brennan said. “It was very overwhelming.”

In their coverage of the pandemic, Brennan focused on including critical information about COVID-19 case numbers and resources about dealing with public health risks, food and job insecurity, Brennan said. The Temple News also published daily and weekly updates about developments in the pandemic that included information about city orders, capacity restrictions and mask mandates. They also continued in-depth feature reporting on students’ experiences. 

“We were student journalists reporting at a time where we were also going through something that’s never happened before in our lifetime,” Brennan said. 

Kelly Brennan, the 2019-2020 editor in chief, stands in Johnny Ring Terrace on Sept. 27. | ALLIE IPPOLITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Despite Temple starting the Fall 2020 semester with some in-person classes, Karas had to keep The Temple News operations almost entirely digital during her time as editor-in-chief, due to Temple’s COVID-19 restrictions. 

Karas resumed printing the paper but shifted to a biweekly schedule during the Fall 2020 semester and paused printing in November and December due to the extended winter break, she said. She also continued to hold staff meetings via Zoom. 

“During a period of such disconnect it was really meaningful to continue to report, continue to find and connect with sources and readers, because we were continuously hearing from parents, alumni, students, instructors with their questions, concerns, comments and insight into what was going on through such an unpredictable time,” Karas said. 

Karas guided the paper through historical moments such as the 2020 presidential election and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the spring. 

While serving as editor-in-chief, Karas also covered deeply personal events, like the death of professor Brian Monroe, who initially encouraged her to apply for the position, she said. 

“He wrote my letter of recommendation to the editor-in-chief position and he was the first person I emailed when I got the job,” Karas said. “I told him you know, thank you for the support and he gave me some words of encouragement and advice and then that ended up being the last time I saw him.”

This year, Ukenye, a junior journalism and political science major, successfully brought staff back into the newsroom, holding the majority of meetings in person, he said.

Coming back to the newsroom was surreal for Ukenye, who’s only memory of it was when everyone was spaced out in adherence to social distancing measures, he said. Ukenye is optimistic about the return to in-person operations and feels confident that he would be able to transition back to operating virtually if necessary. 

Ukenye is happy that The Temple News 100 year anniversary is happening as things transition back to normal, he said.

He is honored to be editor-in-chief for such a significant milestone in the paper’s history, Ukenye said. He is confident that future generations will look back on the 100 year anniversary coverage to see how the paper celebrates such a milestone, he said. 

“We’re celebrating something that’s bigger than any of us,” Ukenye said. “I think it’s even more special because we’re living in such interesting times right now and this gives us an outlet to reflect on how other people throughout history covered challenging times, which makes this coverage even more worthwhile.” 

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