Editor’s note: Growing, one step at a time

Nathan Lesch, Executive Editor

I moved into my new apartment last week, a few days before the first students living on-campus were allowed to move in. Since I live near South Residential Village, move-in isn’t as hectic as on Northside, where throngs of cars clog Juniper and E. 115th, and anxious first-years cling to their departing families. That being said, I still managed to catch some of the sounds of students moving into Staley, Alumni and Tippit—and I couldn’t help but find myself somewhat annoyed to hear their boisterous, joyful tones. At first, I was convinced that I had morphed into The Grinch, but after a bit of thought, I realized why I was annoyed: I was jealous.

Those underclassmen have several whole, uninterrupted years to look forward to; I, on the other hand, had my college experience interrupted in its prime. When I was supposed to meet new people and develop lasting friendships, my relationships dwindled and died. When I was meant to be growing into an adult, I was sent home to live like an elementary school student. And, although the pandemic may soon be subsiding (hopefully), I will not be jumping right back into “normal” life—because I can’t.

Like every other person whose life was interrupted by COVID-19, I must work to rebuild my lost relationships and get back to life before the pandemic, and it’s going to be complicated—a fact that I’ve certainly overlooked until just now. I tell this to you not to overwhelm or depress you, but instead to remind you that things may not start ideally this new year, and that’s OK; we all just need to keep trying, keep working.

This is also the philosophy The Observer will be taking to approach this new year, which is why I’m writing to you all today. One of my responsibilities as The Observer’s executive editor is to reintroduce our identity at the start of each year and provide updates about changes to our organization. Since this is my second year as executive editor, I have the great opportunity to personally continue building on our team’s growth since last year.

Under my leadership, The Observer functions as more than just a passive relater of campus happenings; we are an active voice clamoring for justice in the Case Western Reserve University community. As such, we are continually working to improve our coverage, inclusivity and reach.

Over the summer, our staff has implemented a myriad of changes in pursuit of those goals—with more coming on the way. In this editor’s note, I’ll focus only on a handful of these changes: transitioning from Arts & Entertainment (A&E) to Life, developing training protocols for new reporters, photographers and illustrators, utilizing previously unused web capabilities and implementing a new content assignment system. If you’re interested in hearing more about The Observer, please reach out to me at nal63@case.edu.

Changing our A&E section to a Life section was long overdue. Under current Life Editor and previous A&E Editor Shreyas Banerjee, the A&E section had already been delving into content that exceeded the limits specified by the A&E name. Banerjee’s section produced progressively more content about the student experience at CWRU, not just sticking to museum exhibit openings and album releases. As such, we decided to change the A&E name to Life to reflect this growth in content. However, figuring out how to navigate this change was not easy. Specifically, we were concerned that we’d be taking too much content away from the News sections, or rather, there would be an imbalance. In my head, I imagined the Life section as a kaiju, devouring much of News and some of Sports. After many conversations, though, which forced us to examine all facets of our content, I believe we’ve devised a reasonable distinction between News and Life. And, I think our readers have some really exciting content to look forward to in our new section.

In years past, we required applications from and did interviews with prospective reporters and photographers. While that policy had lapsed a while ago, we never replaced it with training materials or curricula. This lack of structure, in my opinion, prevented some potential writers from joining our staff. Since we believe it’s essential that any student be able to produce content for us, we’ve been working on creating and bolstering positions and materials that support our writers, as well as photographers, videographers and illustrators. Going forward, these positions are open to any interested student—undergraduate or graduate—regardless of their previous experience or ability.

Since I took over as executive editor, The Observer has been incrementally improving its online content. This semester, we’re ready to take the next step. Our website provides us with a variety of functionality that we’ve never taken advantage of before. Starting now, we’re going to be using the sports standings and schedule functions. Additionally, we will be highlighting particularly impactful quotes in our stories using pull quotes. The last function, though, is perhaps the most interesting one—once we’ve confirmed that we legally are allowed to, we’re going to be embedding Spotify playlists along with our playlist-of-the-week stories!

Lastly, our content assignment system has long been slightly problematic but not pressing enough of an issue to warrant change—until now. When we recruit new reporters, they often want to write for several sections; unfortunately, we’ve typically had them start within one section until they become a staff member—which won’t change—and then put the onus on them to reach out to other section editors. We’ve developed a system where writers can see all our story ideas in one place to remedy this issue. As an additional benefit, this new system will facilitate better communication and joint coverage between writers, photographers, videographers and illustrators. Along with these changes, though, we will be changing our columnist and reporter titles to a generic writer title to better reflect our writers’ ability to produce content across sections.

Before ending this note, I’d like to recognize The Observer’s staff, readers and everyone else who has supported us throughout this challenging past year. It has not been an easy time for anyone, but we’ve been able to persevere this far in large part because we’ve gone through it together. Thank you all.