How COVID has Changed The Harriton Banner


Editors of the Banner along with Club Sponsor Mr. Crooke

Jenna Ledley, Features Editor

Before March of 2020, every Friday during Lunch and Learn (remember that hour-long lunch period?) a group of students gathered in an English classroom to let their creative juices flow. This was The Harriton Banner, Harriton’s school newspaper and club, pre-2020, holding one of their weekly brainstorming sessions.

During these meetings, each section of the paper would be written on the whiteboard, and those in attendance (usually about 20 or more students) would shout out article ideas before meeting with their section editors face-to-face, and then saying goodbye until the next week.

Fast-forward to September of 2020, when a new school year was starting and everything was different. The English classroom, like all others at Harriton, was empty because everyone was at home. However, there were still movies being made, albums being released, sports being played, and of course, lots of world news and political events to cover. 

Mr. Crooke, the head of The Banner, and Goldie Beck and Ty Nagvajara, the executive editors, knew that the voice of Harriton could not die. If anything, the students of Harriton needed to feel connected more than ever, and with everything so up-in-the-air, students were desperate for any news they could get.

So The Harriton Banner changed along with the world, and maybe even became a better, stronger club in the process. I interviewed Mr. Crooke, Ty, and Goldie about this switch, and how it has affected the newspaper you are reading today. 

What were your initial thoughts about the paper and COVID in September?

Mr. Crooke: We discovered last spring that running an online daily newspaper was actually just as, if not more, efficient than before the pandemic. 

Goldie: In September, I felt nervous and excited about the paper’s future. Ty and I were riding into September with the inertia of our 2019-2020 success when we were publishing 10-15 articles/week, even during quarantine. Still, many writers had graduated last year, so I worried that section editors would outnumber the writers, and the virtual Banner meetings would not attract new members.

Ty: I remember Goldie and I had many discussions about how we would recruit new members, specifically freshmen. We definitely did not expect the success that we have gotten this year. We also worried about replicating our brainstorms on a virtual platform, but Zoom has been very helpful in allowing people to get their ideas out there.

What difficulties have you seen this year with the paper, specifically with COVID?

Ty: I think the whole community aspect of The Banner has maybe been less familial than in years past. Getting to share a room with 20+ people every Friday really helped people bond and that can be difficult when you are conducting meetings with some faces you’ve never seen before, not to mention black screens. It’s obviously a give-and-take though, as we’ve seen a major increase in our production. 

Goldie: We lucked out with such a motivated team of writers this year that our main difficulty is positive: we receive too much content! Ty and I sometimes struggle to keep up with the articles flooding each section while also expanding in new directions with podcasts, graphic design, and photography/videography. In response to the influx of content, our assistant editor, Ishika Vyas, helps us edit and queue the articles.

Would you say there have been more or fewer articles written this year compared to previous years?

Mr. Crooke: We have more content this year, but I attribute that to the quality of leadership from executive editors to the section editors.

What was easier this year, or what silver linings have you seen?

Ty: The organization and ability for people to meet have definitely improved. Since everything is virtual, the information is being relayed to everyone the same way, as opposed to when it was a mixture of virtual and in-person interaction. I think also, everyone has had more time on their hands, as well as a desire to get their ideas and opinions out, and The Banner is the perfect spot for students to ease their boredom and overhaul of feelings.

Goldie: During this chaotic year, The Banner has given us a platform to raise our voices about current events while supported by a tight-knit community of fellow journalists. Also, the online brainstorm meetings have become a refreshing routine for our large staff to catch up and discuss Harriton and world news—and for the shy underclassmen, they can now contribute ideas without showing their faces or talking out loud!

Do you think that article quality has improved? Does this have a correlation with the COVID pandemic and maybe people having more time to focus on their articles?

Mr. Crooke: The quality of the articles has improved this year, but again, I attribute that to skillful editors. I believe any changes we have had because of the pandemic have been positive. The meeting environment is much more efficient. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who suggests that the improvement we see has to do with students having more time or being more focused because of the pandemic, but I will always go back to the skill of the editors and writers that we have this year as being very important to our success.

Have you found being an executive editor this year to be a trying or rewarding experience?

Ty: I would for sure say that it has been a rewarding experience. If anything, this year has taught me a lot about flexibility and adaptation. I’m lucky to work with Goldie and Mr. Crooke who are both just as passionate about The Banner, and we have really been able to elevate almost every aspect of our publication. Seeing the growth in our writers has also been really awesome and I’m glad to have had a part in helping The Banner expand. 

Goldie: Working as an executive editor alongside Ty has been so fun and rewarding this year. Ty, Mr. Crooke, and I share a passion for growing this paper, and everyone who works for The Banner brings unique ideas and perspectives that fuel our process. I love motivating our staff every week and watching them develop their skills with each new article/photo/podcast that they produce.

How have meeting turnouts changed with newspaper meetings going fully virtual this year? 

Mr. Crooke: The turnout for meetings online has been very good and consistent. This is definitely one area of benefit that we have discovered because of the pandemic. It’s just easier to meet on Zoom from home.

Is there anything else that you would like to share about how The Banner has grown this year?

Ty: I’d say one of our biggest accomplishments is just the number of new sections and ventures we have pursued. We have opened two thriving new sections (Business & Humor), we have our own graphic design team with around 6 dedicated artists, we ventured into photography & video journalism, and we started uploading podcasts under our website. If anything, I’d say COVID helped us refocus who we are as a club and really pushed us to be more creative with our approach.

Goldie: I’m proud of our organization’s growth; over the last three years, we’ve expanded The Banner‘s team of staff from 17 to 45 to currently 80 members, inspiring Harriton students to raise their voices through a journalistic platform. The Banner has become a lean, mean fighting machine, and I can’t wait to see where the next generation of Harriton journalists take it—no pressure!

Editor: In these dark times, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and even harder to see the potential growth that could be a result of COVID-19. However, while The Harriton Banner may not meet in person anymore, and some of the staff may not have ever met each other face-to-face, the newspaper has definitely changed for the better. From more content, more writers, and higher quality articles, to new and improved ways of meeting and new sections, The Harriton Banner is going to come out of the COVID pandemic stronger and better than ever.