Behind-the-Scenes at The Spire: How Holy Cross’ Student Newspaper Is Keeping the Community Connected

The Spire staff

Student journalists share what’s driving them as they adapt to running a campus newspaper remotely

Over the summer, Matthew Anderson '21 was at work in his hometown of Moultonborough, New Hampshire, when his phone started buzzing nonstop. Anderson, co-editor-in-chief of Holy Cross’ student newspaper, The Spire, saw numerous messages from Spire staff members who had just learned the fall semester would be remote. "Those first moments were: What do we do now?" Anderson recalls.

Anderson and fellow Editor-in-Chief Kelly Gallagher '22 quickly gathered their editorial team and tapped the paper’s faculty advisors for input. "We had a strong sense that we wanted to depict how the community is staying a community, even while dispersed," says Gallagher, an English and Russian Studies double major. "Even though [being remote] posed a lot of difficulties, it gave us a lot of direction going forward, maybe more so than we have most years."

One of their first hurdles was figuring out how to take a primarily print-focused publication fully digital — and engage readers used to simply grabbing the paper while on the go around campus.

"We created a newsletter so we can have all the articles for one week in one place," explains Gallagher, who compiles the stories every Thursday evening from her home in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The next morning, the issue gets posted to the paper's website and emailed to subscribers around the world.

"One of the strengths we maybe always had but really realized this semester is that online presence," says Anderson, a history major with a concentration in peace and conflict studies. He shares that going totally digital has actually given student journalists more flexibility to respond to breaking news, like Father Boroughs announcing plans to step aside as president of Holy Cross in 2021. "Within hours or early the next day we can have an article out on the site and share it on our social media."

Weekly virtual staff meetings give the team time to connect, debrief — and figure out how to adapt to reporting during a remote semester.

Sports editors have shifted to focus more on creating spotlights of individual student-athletes. And the paper's photographers have pivoted to become graphic designers. "They had to change everything about how they operated," Gallagher says of the visuals team. Anderson underscores their impact: "[Graphics] make our e-paper look way more professional than it otherwise would."

Grace Bromage '23, chief features editor, says she’s conducting more interviews than ever in an effort to uplift student, faculty and staff voices: "It's a way to show people that we're still a community even though we're apart — and even though it seems like you're going through this alone, we're all sharing this experience."

Bromage, an English major with a creative writing concentration and education minor from Kingston, Massachusetts, says she plans to continue this approach, even when back on campus. "It's another way of thinking that's actually benefited The Spire and my own writing," she says.

"It's more important than ever for people to talk about Holy Cross, on their own terms," Anderson emphasizes. And that's something Spire readers are really responding to right now.

"The most popular stories are the student interviews," shares Gallagher, noting they help give a sense of what's driving the community "when you can't just look around you and see that for yourself."

"I think what a lot of other campus newspapers had to do was write more generic [articles]," Anderson says. "We're keeping a lot of our articles Holy Cross-focused, which is sometimes, in certain weeks, more of a challenge. But I'm really glad that that's been consistent. And I think people are proud of that."

Gallagher says The Spire team has made a particular effort to welcome first-year students, especially given that they've never experienced life on campus. She's thrilled the paper now has one first-year editor and a couple first-year regular contributors: "I'm really happy to have them on the team."

And to cultivate broader connections, Gallagher recently arranged an online journalism workshop with an editor from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette — and invited students on the newspapers at Clark University and Assumption University to join. "It was great," she shares. "There was also a lot of conversation between the students from the different newspapers, exchanging stories of what our semesters had been like."

Both editors-in-chief say it's been incredible to watch their staff persevere this semester to put out a robust newspaper, week after week.

"Holy Cross is more than a campus," wrote Gallagher and Anderson in The Spire’s fall welcome letter to readers, "and though we are experiencing it differently, the spirit that we've always loved remains."