Well, this sucks.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this column (you're of course reading now in its online version), will be my last byline in a print edition of the Western Herald.
As the university closes down its buildings until the spread of the virus is over, students will no longer have access to the places where this newspaper is most frequented. That’s why after Monday, we’re halting our print edition until it's safe to return to campus.
While my time as editor of our physical version is over as of March 23, my time as editor-in-chief remains until May 1.
As this crisis continues, many students including some of our staff members have returned home to their families, but we want you to know this outlet is still here. We’re still listening to your voices, raising your concerns, trying to answer your questions. We’ve been here for more than 100 years, we’ll be here for 100 more.
For that reason, the continuation of our digital-first publication must remain online until the spread of the coronavirus is under control.
When our last physical edition published on March 16, there were 33 people in Michigan who tested positive for coronavirus. Today, the number of positive cases exceeds 1,000, while the state lists 8 deaths as a result; one of the casualties, a male patient in his 70’s, who passed Saturday at a Spectrum Health hospital in West Michigan.
We must do all that's possible to stop this virus from reaching the folks we hold the closest.
Personally, I’m thinking of my mom in Midland, Mich.; a healthcare professional who begins her second week in self-quarantine when she gets home from her job. I’m thinking about my friends who’ve lost their part-time jobs and are unable to pay rent.
Professionally, my thoughts are with my fellow editors and reporters who’ve been put out of work, or continue to work without knowing whether or not they'll get paid for it.
Here in the basement of Faunce Student Services, Western Herald and WIDR FM will also receive pay cuts. We’ll be handed our final checks on March 31, when we will begin to work unpaid until further notice.
We understand not much can be done to accommodate the physical operations of our services as the university closes access to its buildings, including Faunce. But we also believe our presence on campus is one that qualifies the continuation of our paychecks.
That’s why over the weekend, we joined media organizations across the world in our declaration as an “essential service.” In a petition to the university, our board asked President Montgomery and WMU’s Board of Trustees to consider WMU’s Student Media Group an “essential service” to WMU’s campus in the event of any future movement restrictions.
Our necessity to campus and the greater WMU community has never been more clear than during the public health crisis we are currently facing. Since last month, westernherald.com has hosted over 40,000 visitors; our reporting has been at the center of university communications; and our coverage of the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in over 70 articles in print and online. Our operation is crucial not only for this campus’ historical archive, but for the health and safety of the students, who already paid for our service through the Student Assessment Fee (SAF). The WMU SAF is an annual fee charged to students taking classes on main campus at the beginning of each semester to fund student groups like Campus Activities Board, WSA and the Student Media Group.
Western Herald is proud of its complete editorial independence from WMU, but because our compensation comes directly from the university’s SAF funding, our pay is completely dependent on the university and its different departments.
WMU’s Office of Student Engagement — the department responsible for the SAF’s allocation and its distribution into student employee payroll — not reporting to work means there’s no one to submit our timesheets.
As accommodations have been made to continue payment for other “essential services,” not making accomodations for our pay would set a dangerous precedent. WMU’s student body has paid for our service throughout the end of the semester. If our already allocated payment is not distributed, students must be reimbursed.
To me, what we’re asking for isn't all that radical. We hope the university, and you, the reader, will continue to support student journalism at WMU as long as we are still here.
We hope you keep reading and engaging with us online; where over the next several weeks, you’ll read stories from graduating seniors, athletes and community members on just how they’ve been affected by COVID-19.
We’re also hoping you’ll be following CDC recommendations like practicing social distancing, staying inside, and washing your hands, in an effort to help combat the spread of COVID-19.
I’m sure we’ll be back in print before you know it. Until then, check in with us on Twitter and Instagram, @westernherald, or right here on our website, westernherald.com.
Editor's note: As of Sunday, Western Michigan University has not responded to the WMU Student Media Group petition to be formally recognized as an "essential service."
Update: On April 6, Western Michigan University formally recognized necessary members of WMU's Student Media Group as "essential workers."