150th Anniversary Issue

‘Initially a challenge’: Spring 2020 editors reflect on remote production

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Daily Californian’s office was a central hub of activity on production nights, during which editors worked in person to place their departments’ articles for the print paper using Adobe InDesign. (Sunny Shen / Senior Staff)

After a year of virtual coverage and production, a few of The Daily Californian’s spring 2020 editors reflect on the transitions and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the current state of the newspaper.

What was the most challenging part of transitioning to remote production?

Maia Alviar, spring 2020 night editor: Without access to the office and its computers, the night department had to seriously rethink how we worked on production nights. Putting the final version of the paper together was a race against time even before the pandemic, and having to work remotely only amplified any technical struggles. Screen-sharing an InDesign file over Zoom just isn’t the same as sitting together in front of an office computer and trying to come up with the perfect headline. We also worked without copy editors for the first few hectic weeks of the shelter-in-place order, and losing them meant losing an integral part of our department. Despite these initial hurdles, it’s amazing to see how the department has adjusted throughout the pandemic.

Grace Orriss, spring 2020 arts and entertainment editor: Arts content at the Daily Cal is hugely reliant on live event coverage — typically, the bulk of our articles are about Bay Area concerts, theater performances and the like. Transitioning to remote operations was manageable, as it’s relatively easy for us to run meetings, budget content and edit pieces via online means. But finding things to cover was initially a challenge, as many arts organizations were still figuring out how to offer remote programming in those early stages. We ended up incorporating a couple of new segments to fill those gaps: a series in which staff writers recommended underrated film and television to stream, as well as an interview series with Bay Area artists about how the pandemic is impacting their work.

Thao Nguyen, spring 2020 deputy news editor: News coverage and the news department thrive on in-person interactions to maintain a sense of internal community while also developing relationships with the community beyond the Daily Cal. The transition to virtual production challenged us more so internally, as it was difficult to mentor reporters, get to know one another better and share memories through remote means. While we, the news editors, try to provide as many resources as we can and hold editing sessions or events over Zoom, it’s still not the same as seeing one another in person.

Kat Shok, spring 2020 deputy opinion editor: The transition in terms of opinion content wasn’t too problematic — editing sessions just shifted to Zoom or were asynchronous. The physical distance from the rest of the paper hurt much more, especially in terms of the community of editors and our family in the opinion department.

Jasper Kenzo Sundeen, spring 2020 sports editor: In 48 hours, we went from a normal week to no spectators to no sports. There were no games to recap or preview. With sports gone, reporting shifted to the experiences of athletes and coaches — of ways of life torn asunder by COVID-19. All the technical aspects of production, such as working with designers and photographers, placing text and publishing articles, were suddenly completely virtual. Communication became as difficult as it was paramount.

What’s your last distinct memory from in-person production?

MA: I can hardly remember the days that followed, but I distinctly remember the last Sunday morning of in-person production. I was juggling copy editing with DJ duty and taking requests from everyone in the office — which mostly ended up being songs from TikTok (“Supalonely” played at least a dozen times that day). The reality of the pandemic hadn’t quite sunk in yet, so the canceled in-person classes felt more like an early spring break than a precursor to the shelter-in-place order. When I left, I don’t think any of us realized that’d be one of the last days we’d get to be in the office for a long, long time.

GO: Skylar De Paul, the spring 2020 deputy arts and entertainment editor, and I watched the 2020 Academy Awards in the office along with other arts staffers. When “Parasite” won, we all started yelling and jumping up and down. It’s a very happy memory for me!

TN: Last spring’s California primaries. The news department got to work with the special issues editors on the California Primary Elections 2020 issue, and it was our last big production night before the pandemic hit Berkeley. It was a late night, but being surrounded by my fellow editors and other departments working on the issue is a comforting memory. Other than that, I miss every pre-pandemic production night. The chaos of having reporters fill the office as we edited while also making jokes and eating dinner or snacks really brought so much energy to the office.

KS: The opinion/arts cubicle has a couch, and on production nights, Simmy (the head opinion editor), Aidan (the other deputy editor) and I would all sit together and chat about content and life. Other folks would drop by, even members of upper management when they were editing editorials. It just felt so homey and comforting to be able to work in that space a few times a week.

JKS: We covered Cal’s upset of Stanford in the Pac-12 basketball tournament almost as quarantine began. Our writers and editors did a phenomenal job, writing a recap as the game was ending and preparing the article for print while copy editors and the design department facilitated the article’s production. As the game wore on, however, it became increasingly clear that COVID-19 would factor. By the end of the night, attendance for future games had been limited, and by the next day, sports had been canceled or suspended.

Have there been any (surprising) benefits to remote production?

MA: The shift to remote production pushed editors to constantly think of new ways to get staff involved. It’s been great seeing editors do everything they can to give staffers the chance to get to know one another through virtual socials and fun Slack channels!

GO: I think remote production has convinced more people to apply to the arts department, as now they don’t need to access campus or the office to write for us. Applications actually increased when I was the editor in the summer because I think people were looking for something creative to do while they were stuck inside. I know there are several wonderful writers currently working in the department that wouldn’t have applied otherwise, and I’m grateful for that.

TN: Accessibility and a more open schedule! News can be a big time commitment, and it can be hard to balance working for the Daily Cal and school, among other things. With remote production, editing sessions, workshops and socials are now more flexible, as people don’t have to trek to the office during certain times. Zoom opened a window for people with tighter schedules to work with us and also helped with accessibility, as the virtual setting has allowed us to offer different accommodations. Also, with almost everyone working remotely, it’s been easier to reach out to people for coverage.

KS: So. Much. Content. Before the pandemic, Aidan and I would consistently struggle to find enough op-ed writers. But from February onward, our op-ed submission box was almost always bursting at the seams with local, state, national and even international perspectives on a million different facets of the pandemic. I got to speak to and work with so many different kinds of people once we shifted to remote production, an experience I’m really thankful for.

JKS: The long sports drought forced me to take a moment to examine how and what we wrote. Reporters had to be more creative in their coverage, looking further backward and forward and writing stories on issues and individuals that went beyond their athletic activities. The proliferation of features and interviews is proof that sports are more than athletes on a field.

What do you miss most about in-person production and the Daily Cal office?

MA: The chaos. And I mean that in the best way possible. From the haphazard decor — if we can call wall quotes and the night department’s “hall of fame/shame” and random bricks and clogs and pancake mix “decor” — to the unpredictable conversations, there are some things that Zoom and Slack just can’t replace.

GO: I miss the camaraderie: chitchatting with the opinion editors at our shared desk, piling into the conference room for meetings, watching “Love Is Blind” on the arts computer while we waited to place the print paper. I’ll admit that type of casual, collaborative environment remains hard to fully embody over Zoom. Future staffers should definitely not take being able to work in the office for granted.

TN: I miss seeing everyone, and I mean every department, working in their cubicles. I miss the quick runs to Brewed Awakening for coffee before editing or heading into a meeting. There was always a comfort in the casual setting of the office. You could stop by a cubicle to say hi to someone, or if you were hungry or needed a break, you could always find a friend in office to head out with you.

KS: Having that in-person community. Editor socials, grabbing a coffee with a columnist, hearing the then-managing editor Sakura yell, “Prelim in the conference room!”

JKS: It’s a thousand tiny things that made the office a home. It’s the people who made it unique. I remember Ethan Waters singing “La Bomba.” I remember Michael Brust knocking down a basketball hoop. I remember videos and photos and articles. I remember long meetings and longer nights. I miss the full sports cubicle, a crowded prelim meeting and the office of people who — in spite of the hard times, the tears and the stress — were living, laughing and loving every minute of it.

What’s a significant pandemic-related story you’ve written?

GO: I’m most proud of the interviews we produced during the initial stages of the pandemic, which continued our department’s mission to spotlight local artists amid a very uncertain time. I also got to produce the Best of Berkeley special issue, which celebrated the city and campus institutions that students were (and still are) sorely missing. On a less serious note, I wrote an article recommending people watch “Survivor” while quarantining, and a former contestant tweeted me about it. That was pretty awesome.

TN: The city of Berkeley announcing its first case of COVID-19 was a significant moment, as we were hearing updates from the city, campus and the school district in addition to already hearing news from the state and federal governments. At that time, I was a deputy news editor, and I was the only news editor in the office when this was announced. I ended up writing the story on it, and it was the news department’s first major COVID-19 article. From then on, there was a domino effect. The time leading up to the state’s shelter-in-place order put the initial conditions of the pandemic into perspective.

KS: I was super happy to be the fall 2020 opinion editor, which meant that I was writing editorials that were pretty frequently related to the pandemic. Writing about how online education differs from in-person instruction, especially in terms of mental health, was a therapeutic experience. Conducting our 2020 election endorsements was also really interesting because COVID-19 brought a whole new depth of policy considerations to our interviews — no other set of candidates had to deal with a raging virus in the middle of running for office, and hearing about their adaptations was really cool.

JKS: I covered both the beginning of the pandemic and the return of football to campus in all of its brief, chaotic, cancellation-filled glory. It was disheartening, in a way — worrying about who was playing defensive tackle on a Saturday when my friends and peers struggled with isolation, sickness and death. So, the most important pieces I worked on were actually the ones I edited. Surina Khurana and Josh Yuen wrote a pair of fantastic columns about our startling new reality in an unprecedented pandemic. A year later, they still remind me that these challenges are bigger than any one institution or individual, but that we are still in this together. A year later, they still remind me of the good we had, the good we have and the good we will have. A year later, they still remind me to hope.