Portrait, the school newspaper of East Lansing High School, is now available online, offering readers opinion pieces, discussions on the return to in-person learning, sports stories, and more.
Portrait has been produced and distributed by and for East Lansing High School students for 49 years. For the past three years, ELHS English and Journalism teacher Cody Harrell has acted as the paper’s advisor. While the transition from an in-person print paper to an online publication was an unexpected one, Harrell and his 2020 Portrait staff have created an online presence, keeping ELHS students up-to-date on the news affecting them.
The new format was borne of separation during the pandemic, but the staff still enjoys a sense of community.
When junior Ixchel Ceballos joined the student newspaper Portrait as a freshman, she felt welcome in the community. When Ceballos left in-person learning in the early spring of 2020 as a second-semester sophomore, she wasn’t sure what to expect. What was meant to be a minor break became a year-long pandemic time-out.
Ceballos is now the Editor-in-Chief of this new version of Portrait – one that came about at the beginning of the summer when Harrell approached the ELHS administration about buying a Sno website, the premiere format for high school and collegiate publications.
“At the end of last year, I wasn’t planning on the website just yet. It was something that truly just came up because we decided to stay online, at least for a couple of months,” Harrell said.
Money to purchase the site was allocated from a pandemic fund, and Portrait got their URL, but it was only the start of what would become a multi-step transition. Once a URL was secured, Harrell welcomed his new 2020 staff in the fall of what was a different school year for everyone.
A new format meant new approaches.
Together, the staff began to develop the online identity of Portrait. This consisted of drafting the staff policy, putting together goals that the publication would achieve, and constructing an editorial board.
In late October, the website went live, and Portrait could be read by every ELHS student working from home or by anyone else with internet access.
Once Portrait was live, the staff encountered some bumps along, the way because the newsroom was altered by operating over Zoom.
“I think the main thing for me is the community aspect, especially joining as like a little baby freshman,” Ceballos said. “I know what it has the potential to be for people, and then if it doesn’t hit that, which I think online is definitely inhibiting, it feels wrong almost, like it feels a little bit off.”
Staff member and Managing Editor, junior Marie Adele Grosso, agreed that the community aspect was something she missed from an in-person paper.
“I really miss being around other people while I’m writing,” Grosso said.
Though the newsroom is different and maybe missing a bit of normalcy, the transition has created a new culture for newcomers.
Social Media Editor Edith Pendell’s first experiences with Portrait as a sophomore have been virtual. While she wasn’t anticipating an online paper, it’s not an entirely negative thing from her point of view.
“It’s not what I hoped it’d be, but obviously I’m not really upset, I’m rolling with it,” Pendell said.
Pendell’s roll-with-the-punches attitude is something shared by all of Portrait’s staff, including advisor Harrell. It can be seen in the ways they lean on each other.
“The journalism, newspaper, and yearbook staff students have been incredibly supportive, and not in ways that they see as being supportive,” Harrell said. “They are just following through on things, are being self-sufficient, and, in a year like this, it is unbelievable how much that is a support system.”
Not everything about Portrait’s transition has been rough.
There were a lot of unexpected positive factors that came into play as the pandemic stretched on, including a larger online presence.
“I think Portrait is also more accessible for students,” Grosso said. “To be able to see it on social media and check the website, that’s something we were lacking before.”
A lot of the positives lay within the Portrait community itself.
“The unexpected positive I think is the staff because I didn’t know what to expect necessarily,” Ceballos said. “Like, who would want to go into journalism and start all of that online, but people chose to and they’re doing a phenomenal job.”
The online shift has ushered in new skills for the Portrait staff, including learning new technology like Adobe Spark, Photoshop, and Canva.
“It’s like a whole new world of technology to me, and that’s really helpful,” Pendell said.
While there have been a lot of changes for the staff of Portrait, the publication is nowhere near done evolving. The struggles transitioning to online have made the publication stronger. During all the learning and teaching of new things, the people of Portrait have stayed committed.
“I’ve never taught multimedia. I’ve never taught online journalism before, so this just totally threw everything for a loop,” Harrell said. “But the staff this year has been incredibly – not just resilient, but ingenious.”
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