A newspaper distribution box of The Commonwealth Times.
The final print edition of The Commonwealth Times this semester, printed the morning after Super Tuesday. The staff will continue to publish online. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

'A way to stay connected to VCU': Amid pandemic, The Commonwealth Times continues to publish

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the student newspaper to stop printing, but staff continue to publish stories online.

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Like every student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Georgia Geen is trying to navigate the reality of a pandemic and figure out what it means to be an online student. She also has a newspaper to publish. 

Geen, a senior studying journalism in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is executive editor of The Commonwealth Times. The student newspaper is continuing to publish stories and updates during the COVID-19 crisis. The last printed publication hit the newsstands March 4. Given the current situation, the publication is now entirely online, but she still wants it to be an important source of information. 

“I hope that students will look to us as a way to stay connected to VCU,” Geen said.

Plans to take the publication online have been in the works for the past week. A few stories were published during the original week of spring break and a staff meeting was held last weekend. Like many work teams these days, the meeting was conducted virtually.

Geen and her staff are close, and the meeting was not only a chance to map out plans for the publication but also to reconnect. Many staff members do not live in Richmond, and she has not seen them in several weeks. The planning meeting was mostly business, “but there was a moment where everyone was like, ‘I miss you,’” Geen said.

She graduates in May and acknowledges, “there is a real possibility that I will not get to see everyone again in person.”

A screenshot of The Commonwealth Times website.
The publication plans to do five to eight stories a day online at commonwealthtimes.org.

The Commonwealth Times plans to publish five to eight stories a day. While many will focus on the COVID-19 outbreak, Geen also wants other stories. Some already have been written and are ready to be published.

However, keeping the staff busy has been a challenge. One area that is difficult to cover right now is sports. All spring sports have been cancelled, and Geen is unclear how the sports writer can cover the beat. Photography is also a challenge, as everyone is expected to be indoors. Graphic designers, who normally lay out the print publication, are working on social media and illustrations.

“We are trying to use their talents as best as we can,” Geen said.

Some of the processes to submit stories and publish them online were already in place, but kinks had to be worked out now that everyone is not in the same office. A Slack channel is being created so the team can stay in constant contact. 

The publication has solicited feedback from students on what stories to cover, Geen said. A lot of questions are about classes moving to online-only, and Geen and her staff are doing the best they can to answer them. They are hoping to create a Google form where students can submit questions, but for now, email and phone are the best way to reach out, she said.