KINGSTON, R.I. — April 9, 2020 — Like her fellow students at the University of Rhode Island, Mary Lind is learning remotely, logging in to classes on international politics, writing and journalism for several hours a day from her family’s Lincoln home.
But at the same time, Lind, a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science, has spent many hours keeping her fellow students and University community informed on the University’s response to the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) crisis as a reporter and production manager for the student newspaper, The Good Five-Cent Cigar.
Until recently, Lind has been providing daily updates on the latest developments. Interviewing numerous URI officials – at times several in a day – she has written on topics vital to the community – from the decision to postpone face-to-face classes, to the crisis’ effect on different URI colleges, student services and commencement, to the opening of a virus testing site on the Kingston campus.
“I was on campus for most of spring break, working at The Cigar office when we got the email that all classes would transition to remote learning until April 1,” Lind says. “Since then, I’ve been living and breathing coronavirus stories.”
Lind is seeing the story from many angles – student, reporter and a person handling the sobering daily updates about the virus’ spread.
“This is a challenging and very serious situation, and I’m terrified all the time. I have no idea what is going to happen. I was devastated that this year got cut short but I totally understand why,” she says. “This is also fascinating to cover because this is changing so rapidly and there’s a lot of information that needs to get out. I’m glad that I’m able to help get that information out, especially to the students and the URI community.
“All of us at The Cigar realize that it’s our responsibility as the paper on campus to keep reporting on this issue even when we’re not physically on campus,” she adds. “Having continued to write and do interviews over the last few weeks has given me something to take my mind off of my own fears. But mainly, I feel I’m doing something productive that will help other people feel better about what’s going on right now.”
Being on campus during spring break gave Lind an early leg up on coverage of the virus’ effects on the URI community, and for a few weeks her byline dominated The Cigar’s website. True to the paper’s team spirit, others such as Theresa Brown, editor-in-chief; Laura Weick, managing editor; Kate LeBlanc, news editor; Nicole Wagner, news editor, Leah Crowley, newscast editor; news reporter Adam Zangari and others have jumped in to provide comprehensive, almost up-to-the-minute coverage.
Because conventional, face-to-face interviews are no longer an option, Lind has found different ways to collect information. From her room in her family’s home, she’s conducted interviews over the phone, through Google Meet and other web-based portals, and emails. Since URI’s initial decision to postpone in-person classes in mid-March, she has been writing a story or doing interviews daily. Lind, who had to self-quarantine because of health concerns, was recently tested for the virus and advised to slow down. This week she received good news that she does not have COVID-19.
John Pantalone, chair of URI’s Department of Journalism, says that part of the challenge journalists face is developing and writing stories while being isolated at home. “That’s certainly not the best way to do reporting but in this case it’s the only way to do it,” he says. “And The Cigar is making exceptional progress and getting good experience doing it.”
Born in Lincoln, Lind has been passionate about journalism since her time as co-editor-in-chief for Lion’s Roar, the Lincoln High School student newspaper. She joined The Cigar her first week on campus and has been production manager since spring 2019. Before the pandemic, a typical Wednesday night would find her in The Cigar office designing pages for Thursday’s print edition, with editorial staff working together to write and edit stories. But with the crisis, The Cigar has transitioned fully to an online newspaper. That’s been an adjustment.
“Production nights are different because we’re not having face-to-face meetings,” Lind says. “But the editorial staff and I make at least three edits and check facts on Google Docs before we publish stories online. We also post them on social media so that people can directly reach out to us if they have any questions.”
While Lind has handled many of the stories about the University’s official response, other members of The Cigar have written on such topics as how the crisis is affecting students, how people can stay entertained during quarantine, and the temporary change in grading policy.
“There’s so much information out there and I personally have so many questions,” she says. “If I have these questions, I’m sure other people do, too.”
Her work has also helped her understand the complex efforts the University is taking to deal with a monumental situation.
“I didn’t understand how many people it took to coordinate all the efforts and how big of an operation it was till I reached out to them to find more information,” she says. “I’ve constantly been in contact with Kathy Collins, the vice president for Student Affairs; Ellen Reynolds, the director of Health Services (and assistant vice president for Student Affairs), and the Department of Communications. It’s great to see how everyone is working together and how much thought, time and effort goes into making important decisions.
“I am grateful for everyone who has been kind and willing to talk to me, especially because I know they’re all really busy right now,” she adds. “I appreciate them for helping me and The Cigar get the word out to the students, which is important now when everything is so uncertain and up in the air.”
Even while students finish the semester remotely, The Cigar’s editorial staff continues to focus on stories related to the crisis, says Brown, The Cigar’s editor-in-chief. To read its stories, go to The Cigar’s website.
Edhaya Thennarasu, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and Communications major, wrote this press release.