Dixie Sun News adapts to the journalism challenges of COVID-19

Kristi Shields, a junior media studies major from Salt Lake City, interviews for a DSN story about student journalism and how she has adapted to the COVID-19 challenges while being the Dixie Sun News’ Editor-in-Chief. Photo by Bailey Chamberlain.

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It’s been almost one whole year since COVID-19 started ruling our entire lives. For organizations like the Dixie Sun News, that brings a lot of unique challenges. As a student news organization, we’ve grown and adapted in many ways to our new circumstances.

Despite all the challenges, this staff has persevered. Here are some of our stories:

Rhiannon Bent

DSN Adviser Rhiannon Bent, assistant professor of media studies, said COVID-19 was a great learning experience for her student journalists.

“I think COVID-19 was the best active learning activity I never could’ve come up with,” Bent said. “I think for stretching student journalists for creative thinking, for critical thinking, it has done everything I have wanted it to.”

Bent said how proud she is of her students for continuing what they are doing and pushing through their challenges. She said they are learning how to do things differently and sometimes even more logically and creatively.

Bent said this year in particular, it is so important to have news because of all the tension going on in the world.

“If anything, we need journalism now more than ever, especially over all the other things that have happened this past year,” Bent said. “It’s not just the pandemic; think of all the racial injustices and tensions that have happened, all the things with politics. There are so many critical stories that need to be told now more than ever.”

Stephanie Du Par

Producer Stephanie Du Par, a senior communication major from Santa Rosa, California, said when everything came crashing down around the newspaper last year, Bent came in and kept them all together.

When the staff found out about school closing and everyone having to return home for the quarantine last March, many found it easiest to just give up and stop, Du Par said.

“Our saving grace was Rhiannon Bent, who was so determined to find a way to keep printing and to keep doing our show even though we were all in different states,” Du Par said. “Rhiannon was like the glue that held us all together.”

Since the new regulations made communicating in person difficult, everyone had to learn how to continue doing their jobs online, Du Par said. She said communication had to start changing and the whole group had to get good at it fast.

“The best part is communicating what works best for everybody, and it kind of eliminates excuses because everyone is on the phone and on their computer,” Du Par said. “I feel like we’ve done well adapting, but I wouldn’t say we’re perfect by any means.”

Kristi Shields

Editor-in-Chief Kristi Shields, a junior media studies major from Salt Lake City, said DSN has become more multimedia based and also more creative in how it produces work.

Sometimes things just don’t work out how you plan, and in the moment you have to figure it out despite the complications, Shields said.

Shields said she’s been exploring more video assignments for DSN this year, and it’s caused some interesting, creative challenges. Sometimes you just don’t get what you need, like an interview for example, and it causes you to think on the fly, she said.

“We have to explore other ways to make a video if you don’t have a visual interview,” Shields said. “Definitely with [Zoom] we’ve had to adjust how we do video.”

Shields said it’s nice to have all this technology in order to still communicate with sources and staff, but sometimes there is a lack of a line drawn between work and break time.

“When do you have that cut-off?” Shields said. “When do you know when you are going to just turn off and not be available? We’re so used to having that as a sole communication now, [and] it’s definitely helped communication between us.”

Breanna Biorato

Breanna Biorato, a sophomore art major from Las Vegas, said last March was a uniquely difficult situation. As the photography editor, she had to find a balance between making everything DSU related and COVID-19 related, all the while being home in Las Vegas.

She said during this new school year, she was extremely hopeful for things to get easier than having to do things from her hometown last year during quarantine.

“When August came, I was kind of on the iffy side of things because [of] Zoom and hybrid classes, but I was glad to be back on campus and glad to be working back with the newspaper,” Biorato said. “It made things so much easier knowing at least I was in the same state.”

Biorato said the biggest difficulty with online meetings for her and her photographers is that sometimes they get forgotten. Everyone is so busy talking about the stories and what they need to do, it’s easy to forget about the art and it’s harder to cut in over Zoom, Biorato said.

Biorato said: “The writers always have the full time to talk and plan, but then the photographers come and it’s like, ‘We’re done, let’s go write in the chat.’ It’s definitely one of those things I prefer in person because it’s like we’re not there sometimes.”

Now, almost a year later, the staff is different, the format to release DSN’s news has shifted to a completely online base, and it feels like a whole new world in the newsroom. There will never be a perfect situation, and COVID-19 is a perfect example of how you work with what you are given, which is exactly what staff members at DSN are doing.

“Tragedy, trauma, drama; these are the things that bind people together,” Bent said. “I hope that students walk away after this year feeling like they can do more than they ever thought they could do before.”