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Award-Winning Montclarion Takes Reporting Digital During Pandemic

Posted in: Communication and Media, University

Screenshot of Zoom meeting
The Montclarion staff celebrate their big win over a Zoom conference call meeting. Mackenzie Robertson | The Montclarion.

In mid-March, the editors and staff of The Montclarion, the student-run news operation serving Montclair State since 1928, found out they were the recipients of multiple awards from the New Jersey Press Foundation’s 2019-20 New Jersey College Newspaper Contest.

But they had no time to rest on their laurels.

The COVID-19 outbreak was forcing campus to mostly close down. Editorial offices were shuttered; classes moved online. The vast majority of students and staff wouldn’t be on campus to pick up print copies of the weekly newspaper – at least through the end of the semester.

It was time to go full-on digital.

“Amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, we have been doing our best to crowdsource both administration and student perspectives on the currently developing situation, and have weekly Zoom meetings to check in with our editors to see what points of view they are going to explore each week,” says Heather Berzak, editor-in-chief. “It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s not impossible, and that is what keeps us going.”

The news operation continues to pump out stories regularly and post to its website, while also making use of social media platforms to get the word out (on Twitter and Instagram @themontclarion).

In a recent Montclarion story by Jenna Sundel, faculty advisor Tara George, who also heads the Journalism and Television/Digital Media program, described how the Montclarion staff has continued to provide students with up-to-date information on the new coronavirus crisis:

“Early on, the students expressed a commitment to covering the story – but to doing so safely,” George says. “So they have adapted by using digital tools to do interviews, gather information and get images to avoid face-to-face situations that might put our student journalists at risk.”

The adjustment to digital reporting includes logistical, technical and mental challenges.

“We now have writers and reporters scattered all over,” says Managing Editor Mackenzie Robertson.

Photography Editors Olivia Kearns and Ben Caplan note that they can’t hop a shuttle to campus to take photos for stories, but instead have to “be creative” and rely on graphics, illustrations or archival photos.

On top of that, News Editor Adrianna Caraballo says both staff and readers are dealing with going to school and/or working “in a stressful time.”

”It has been really encouraging to see everyone come together as a team to gather the most detailed and accurate information we possibly can, while staying as safe as we can,” says Robertson. “Our primary goal is to still provide our campus community with accurate news regarding Montclair State and the new virus, and I believe we have [been] doing this well.”

Heather Berzak, editor-in-chief of

The awards and accolades do help to boost spirits at a difficult time.

“When I found out the great news about our awards, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear,” says Berzak. “All of us are currently experiencing personal struggles due to this situation, and to have this reminder that what we are doing as journalists is paying off means the world to our organization.”

Says George, “For me as their advisor, the real victory comes in the fact that these students independently are putting together a multi-platform news operation day in and day out and have shown their commitment to what they do by continuing to publish through the coronavirus crisis using digital tools available to them.”

The Montclarion continues reaching its audience via Instagram and Twitter.

Those Awards

The Montclarion won a total of 10 awards, including seven first-place honors, in the New Jersey Press Foundation 2019-2020 college newspaper contest, competing with papers from four-year colleges and universities across New Jersey..

Editorial Writing – First Place
Administrators Get a Raise While Tuition Continued to Rise
#FocusImmigration: Taking the Focus Off the Immigration Stigma
Rebecca Serviss
Sports Writing – First Place
#FocusImmigration Student-Athlete Profile: Lazaro Valdes
Corey Annan
Arts & Entertainment/Critical Writing – First Place
Late Night’ Nails the Punchline & Robert Eggers
The Lighthouse’ is a Fully Immersive Nautical Nightmare
Charlee Reiff, Kristen Milburn
Photography – First Place
Trinity Corney Breaks Boundaries With Cerebral Palsy
Sunah Choudhry
Photography – Third Place
New Citizens Get a Photo Finish to Their Naturalization Process
Amarisa Torres
Overall Website – First Place
The Montclarion
Web Editor Adrian Maldonado and The Montclarion staff
Web Project – First Place
Vape Crisis Takes Darker Turn Into Black Market
Heather Berzak
Online Video – First Place
Student Artist Profile: Austin Halls
Annabel Reyes, Mackenzie Robertson, Thomas Neira
Online Video – Second Place
LGBTQ+ Lieutenant Giuliano Aims to Encourage Campus Community
Kristoffer Fernandes
Layout & Design – Third Place
#FocusImmigration Special Edition
The Montclarion staff