By Theresa Brown ’21

From the true value of journalism to why it’s important to cultivate a wide range of skills, Theresa Brown ’21, editor-in-chief of URI’s student newspaper, The Good Five-Cent Cigar, reflects on lessons learned covering the COVID-19 pandemic.

When I took over as editor-in-chief of The Good Five-Cent Cigar in December 2019, I knew exactly what to expect. I had previously acted as web editor and managing editor and saw no excuse to pass up the opportunity to finally be in charge of the paper I had dedicated so much time to already. I knew what I was doing and, while I was nervous, I was confident that, with all of my experience, things would run smoothly. So, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the URI campus—and the world—I jumped at the opportunity to continue to make it work.

The extended deadlines, 48 hours to edit, and late-night productions that The Cigar editors knew too well were gone, and we were met with a fast-paced chaotic schedule of writing, editing, and publishing as soon as new information was released.

The last two months of covering the pandemic have proven to me just how important the news is. When I say I’m pursuing a career in the journalism field, I often get comments like, “That’s a dying field.” But it’s in times of chaos, like this, that I’m grateful I have access to as much information as I do—thanks to the news. It proves to me that, even on a university newspaper level, the reporting we are doing is making a difference.

As an editorial board, we have completely changed the way we view The Cigar. We have transitioned to functioning like a real-world newsroom. Instead of having specific responsibilities, we have created a team that does it all: pitching, reporting, recording, editing, publishing, and photography. Our team includes our managing editor, Laura Weick ’20; news editors Kate LeBlanc ’22 and Nicole Wagner ’22; and production manager, Mary Lind ’22.

Our articles are reaching a larger audience than ever before, our website traffic is up, and our newspaper inbox is filled with questions and comments about what we are reporting.

Like many newspapers in recent years, we have recognized the importance of multimedia reporting. The pandemic forced us to transition to an online platform. During the last year, we have prepared for a larger online presence, more active social media accounts, and a fully-functioning weekly newscast supplemented by occasional breaking-news packages. The inability to produce a physical paper has allowed us to utilize and thrive through these resources.

While the experience of covering the pandemic has been a whirlwind of emotions, a battle to remain unbiased, and a chaotic process overall, The Cigar editors and I are grateful for the opportunity. URI stresses the importance of experiential learning; what better way to engage in experiential learning than this? We are testing the skills we’ve learned in the classroom even as we report on the same topic being covered by the famous journalists we admire. •

Photo: Nora Lewis