By Abigail Brooks, assistant news editor, The Outlook
“The Outlook” was awarded First Place with Special Merit and Best Weekly University Newspaper in the 2021 American Scholastic Press Association (ASPA) newspaper competition.
The victory came in light of the start of the COVID pandemic, which shut down the University and many of its clubs and organizations due to health and safety concerns during the spring of 2020.
“Anything you win is wonderful, but this is special,” said John Morano, Professor of Journalism and former “Outlook” faculty advisor. “One of the things that makes it most special for me is that we did it during COVID. That’s insane.”
When the initial lockdown forced all classes and extracurriculars to stop meeting in-person and shift to a virtual format, Morano asked the newspaper staff if they wanted to shut down or start publishing issues once a month rather than once a week. The students insisted on continuing to publish weekly, and so “The Outlook” operated on its normal publication schedule while working around COVID limitations.
“Not many schools in the country did that,” noted Morano.
“Nobody would have batted an eye if we quit, but we graciously shifted to the remote format and continued to deliver high-quality issues every week,” said Matt Cutillo, former “Outlook” editor-in-chief and news editor.
Cutillo described the process of preparing and publishing weekly issues from home, which required newspaper staff to utilize a remote portal that allowed them to access the programs necessary to put the newspaper together.
“Rather than being in the newsroom with everybody on Mondays and Tuesdays, it meant more phone calls and emails. It meant people sharing documents more and the graduate assistants stepping up even more than they already do. It was everybody, and it just got a little bit harder,” explained Morano.
“It was difficult at first, because “The Outlook” thrives on being able to communicate and work together, which is much easier in person,” explained Melissa Badamo, former editor-in-chief during the 2020-2021 school year and current graduate assistant for “The Outlook.” “However, everyone eventually got the hang of it and we were able to put in the same hard work and keep publishing each week without being in the physical newsroom.”
“Putting the paper together over group chats and Zoom calls was a learning experience, but we all adapted, and the quality of our issues did not dip at all,” added Cutillo.
The students’ ability to continue publishing high-quality weekly publications of “The Outlook” during COVID did not go unnoticed by ASPA judges, who wrote, “your ability to keep your publication alive and printing during a pandemic is a testament to your dedication and devotion to your publication, school, community, and each other.”
Cutillo credits the staff’s flexibility and willingness to work through unideal circumstances as reasons for “The Outlook’s” success during the pandemic. On top of dealing with a difficult and unprecedented transition to remote classes, students put in the additional time and effort to ensure that the newspaper continued to flourish.
“Credit should be given to the editors and writers who remained committed during such a tumultuous period,” said Cutillo.
Aside from concerns about the feasibility of continuing to put together weekly publications from home, finding content to cover each week was another area of uncertainty. Although some sections of “The Outlook” cover off-campus topics, other sections focus on University events that were impacted by COVID safety protocols.
“For Monmouth-centric sections, such as News and Club & Greek, the school did a great job of migrating their events to online spaces,” explained Cutillo. “There was plenty to write about from home.”
Morano also described how the fundamental role of “The Outlook” changed as a result of the pandemic. “You had to consider the imperative of the situation,” he explained. “It’s not like we needed to get a paper out, it was more like we needed to tell people where they could get tested or where they could get a vaccine. It was of a whole different magnitude.”
“The Outlook” has entered the ASPA’s newspaper competition in the past and has been nationally recognized on several occasions, an especially impressive feat amid the uncertainties of the pandemic.
“To submit, we chose two issues from the 2020-2021 school year that really showcased our staff’s writing, reporting, page design, and editing abilities,” explained Badamo. “These two issues were judged alongside newspapers from schools around the country.”
The ASPA describes the contest as a service that “provides advice on page design, story layout, graphics, headlining, cover design, advertising placement, photography and a variety of other useful items.”
“The Outlook” was recognized as a national champion in this year’s competition, but it still received some constructive criticism from the judges.
“The ASPA praised “The Outlook” on our creativity, journalistic knowledge, and dedication to publication during the pandemic. We also received some minor feedback on page layout, which is always appreciated as it will help us improve our newspaper moving forward,” explained Badamo.
“It’s a funny thing. I’ve been doing this for a while, and it can depend on the judge you get,” said Morano. “A lot of it boils down to how you define journalism and what the most effective way to inform the public is. We always take their advice and we always consider it. Sometimes we do it, sometimes we don’t. We’re always very interested in hearing what people think about how we do it, and often adjust how we do it, but in the end, we do journalism.”
The 2021 victory marks “The Outlook’s” sixth national championship in the ASPA contest, and the second consecutive win for the University newspaper.