Student journalism at Dow High and Midland High pushes through the pandemic

When they were chosen to lead their student newspaper classes, Caitlin Quinn, Editor-in-Chief of the Midland High Focus, and Jason Laplow, Editor-in-Chief of the Dow High Update, could not have anticipated the challenges this year would bring.

Laplow and Quinn, with the aid of staff and advisors in their journalism classes, each publish monthly newspapers that are distributed to their schools.“We have to take every single day like it’s going to be our last day in the classroom,” says Laplow. “So we really have to focus on producing our best work [while we can].” 

Throughout the year, students have had to deal with the mental and physical implications of the pandemic while attempting to live their normal lives.

“[I’m] just trying to make sure that I’m there for myself, but also there for everyone on staff,” says Quinn. “It’s been a really rough year mentally, I’d say, for a lot of students.” 

The ground shifted underneath both Laplow and Quinn constantly as they led their staff — school closings, quarantining — any number of events were around the corner at any moment.

“I am immensely concerned about my staff's mental health and well-being during school,” says Quinn. “[I’m concerned] if I’m overworking them or if they’re doing all right mentally with all the other stuff outside of class.”

Laplow and Quinn, with the aid of staff and advisors in their journalism classes, each publish monthly newspapers that are distributed to their schools. The papers contain student-centric news painted by the goings-on in the world. 

“I believe our publication — student publications — are in a really unique position,” says Laplow. “Oftentimes there are rumors floating around [school] but you don’t have backup of, you know, ‘this is true’ and that’s kind of what I want [from the Dow High Update].”

Throughout the year, students have had to deal with the mental and physical implications of the pandemic while attempting to live their normal lives.Much of the news over the last year has been about COVID-19 and its effects on students, adults, and the school as a whole.

“Our first issue was Chemics vs. COVID,” says Quinn. “... we had [one story] about the theater program at our school and how that had been changed due to COVID. Then we had a big two-page news spread, which was a timeline of the pandemic, and it went all the way back to December 2019.”

While Laplow and Quinn have successfully been there for the staff and found a focus for content, challenges popped up in getting the paper published during school closings in November and December.

Jason Laplow is the Editor-in-Chief of the Dow High Update.“There were two issues that had to be put completely online,” says Laplow. “In December … we wanted to make full pages as we would if we were to print it … we thought about mailing them out to students but the cost was ultimately too high.”

Laplow and staff at the Update have also spent plenty of time thinking about how to safely distribute the newspapers to students at Dow High.

“We thought about having to wear gloves, having to stagger the release times so there wouldn’t be as many people in the hallway,” says Laplow. “It took us at least a month out of our normal cycle to try and figure those things out.”

At Midland High, kids were given an option of taking classes online, in-person, or a hybrid of the two. This has caused some issues in finding sources, according to Quinn.

“In the past you could ask a source you were talking to … ‘hey, would you mind meeting me for an interview during [lunch?],’” says Quinn. “You could meet in the library and conduct your interview there and record it and be all set.”

With some students being completely online, they wind up being unreachable. For high school students, some who can’t drive, this poses a unique challenge.

Caitlin Quinn is the Editor-in-Chief of the Midland High Focus.“If they don’t drive, or if you don’t drive, then you have to go out of your way in a way we never had to in the past,” says Quinn. “We switched to a lot more phone interviews and Zoom interviews.”

Meet the Chiefs

“I have been on staff since I was a sophomore,” says Laplow. “I took beginning journalism [when I was a freshman] and applied to be managing sports editor [for my sophomore year] — I got that position.”

Laplow applied and secured the same position of managing sports editor for his junior year, then applied to be Editor-in-Chief for his senior year. 

Apart from print journalism, Laplow has also been working on a passion project since his freshman year. This project eventually resurrected a 10-year-dormant video communications class at Dow High, Bolt Media.

“When I was a freshman, I was streaming sporting events … then I started streaming honors assemblies, battle of the bands, things like that to YouTube,” says Laplow. “Now [the class] produces weekly video announcements from our studio.”

Laplow is hopeful that there will be enough students to take the class next year so that Bolt Media may continue on.

Quinn, a senior at Midland High, got involved in journalism thanks to her sister, who was a staff member of the Focus when she was in school. 

The cover story in the April 30 issue of the Dow High Update is about a pandemic graduation.“Whenever she’d get home from production nights working on [the paper] she would be so excited,” says Quinn. “She had so many friends in the class and loved it and always told me I would enjoy taking it as well.”

Quinn started in beginning journalism, moved to advanced journalism as a staff writer her sophomore year, and became editor for Arts & Entertainment her junior year and then Editor-in-Chief this year.

“I enjoyed the easygoing aspects of being a staff writer … you weren’t responsible for anything but your one story,” says Quinn. “... But Editor-in-Chief has been really fun because I feel like I’ve gotten to know a lot of people and I hopefully get to be a good role model for a lot of the younger kids in class.

“When I look at the staff, I do see a family,” says Quinn. “I could rely on anyone in [class] to be there for me … I’ve been involved in a lot of other types of organizations and there hasn’t been another one where I was able to get so close with such a diverse group of people.”

Following graduation, Laplow will attend Michigan State University for sports journalism and Quinn will attend Northern Michigan University for environmental science.

Read more articles by Patrick Sochacki.

Patrick Sochacki, Oscoda native, has lived in Bay City since he was 7 years old. He is a freelance journalist for Catalyst Midland, produces news stories for Delta College Public Radio, and is a freelance podcast producer. He was also editor-in-chief for The Delta Collegiate, Delta College’s student-run newspaper. He can be reached on Twitter @PatrickSochacki.