New ‘Daily Illini’ staff, including many Media students, adapt to online-only publication due to COVID-19 pandemic

Daily Illini 2019-2020 editors
This group photo of The Daily Illini shows the 2019-2020 new editors and staff, many of whom are in leadership positions for 2020-2021. (Photo courtesy of JJ Kim.)


Each spring, The Daily Illini undergoes turnover, a transition period that welcomes new editors and staff to its team. This year’s turnover brought in a large representation of students from the College of Media, with the editor-in-chief, news editor, video editor, longform editor, photo editor, sports editor, and brand manager holding a major or minor within the college. 

Since their transition coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak, the staff decided to cease publishing print newspapers for the rest of the semester. Instead, they are producing daily online content.

JJ Kim, sophomore in journalism and editor-in-chief, said the health and safety of the writers and staff members was most important in making this decision, combined with his uncertainty over whether reporters would be able to successfully interview sources for their stories. Kim also saw this as an opportunity for The Daily Illini to use their online presence.

“You know, the world is moving to the digital format more and more every year,” he said. “Even though it's a bummer that we have to cease printing for the rest of the semester, I think it also exposes the great opportunity for us to jump on that digital hype train.” 

Not only are the students adjusting to their new leadership roles at the newspaper, as well as adjusting to classes being moved online, but they are also dealing with the general stress of the pandemic. 

“As a staff, we’ve overcome many obstacles, often on an issue-to-issue basis (no pun intended), but in these current circumstances, dealing with the Illinois stay-at-home order has been difficult for me, as I assume it’s been for everyone,” said Haley Follman, junior in English and copy chief. 

Ethan Simmons, junior in journalism and news editor, said his major has helped him to be proactive, think critically about stories and main sources, and to consider which stories will be happening in the future. 

“That's probably been the biggest lesson so far and I'm trying to use that right now,” Simmons said. “With this crazy crisis we're going through now, what stories could be happening within a week or two weeks or months from now—that is going to be important. That's been something that's reiterated by ‘Stretch’ [Professor Charles Ledford] this year in JOUR 335: Audio Journalism.”

Video editor Shana Olivero, a junior in media and cinema studies, said her MACS classes have taught her the fundamentals of pre-production, production, and post-production, which gave her foundation on how to prepare for interviews, record footage at events, and edit all the content into videos. 

“This position in the DI has also helped me as a College of Media student as well, as there are so many lessons in editing, journalism, and professionalism that I have learned from working for the school newspaper that I had not yet learned in my classes,” she said. “This job has given me the ability to contribute what I have learned to my classes and also share my knowledge in editing and camera equipment with classmates who do not have the same video experience outside of the classroom.”

The amount of work remains the same for features reporters, said features editor Elizabeth Sayasane, junior in English with minors in journalism and political science. However, the writers are working to produce more weekend content. 

“Reporters have not lost any spirit—for many of them, this is an opportunity to combine news reporting with features reporting, which is not typical of the section,” she said. “We’re going full steam ahead with our social media presence which Mark Capapas (online managing editor) has been great at promoting.” 

Photo editor Ryan Ash, freshman transferring into advertising, said he has continued developing photography content and captions for the online stories. 

“I will say I miss going into the office and seeing all my fellow DI coworkers in person,” Ash said. “I sure hope we return in the fall and are able to produce a physical paper again!”

—Kimberly Belser, Communications and Marketing Intern