The Eagle Explains: Covering COVID-19 
By: Kate Corliss, News Staff Writer and COVID-19 Beat Reporter (

I attended my first meeting for The Eagle from my childhood bedroom. Entering American University as a freshman in the fall of 2020, the threat of the coronavirus has always gone hand-in-hand with my college experience. Even as we navigate the early stages of this in-person semester, I have never known university life outside of a pandemic. 

Because this “new normal” is the only normal that I know here, I often find myself working backwards in my reporting process as a COVID-19 beat reporter. I have only ever experienced AU as it is right now: reconfigured, cautious and not quite itself. To accurately describe the impact of COVID-19 on this community, I continuously have to ask these questions: What was it like before and how is it different now?

When you think about it, these questions are representative of a lot of the grief that has been plaguing not just AU, but communities all over the world since March 2020. The closeness of pre-pandemic life — the comfort, the traditions, the unmasked faces — is what we are missing in its most basic form. This lack of the closeness that we once took for granted lies at the core of every article that Ben Johansen — my fellow COVID-19 beat reporter — and I write. What is preventing our community from being close like it used to be? What steps are we taking to get close again? How are the communities within our broader school community — classes, clubs, groups of friends — reimagining closeness within the constraints of our current circumstances? 

If you look at The Eagle’s coronavirus coverage so far, you’ll find that it is very policy-oriented — hard numbers and statistics, quotes snipped from carefully-worded emails sent by administrators and rigid definitions of terms and guidelines. Where do we have to wear our masks? What are the rules about vaccination and in-person campus presence? How is testing going to work? This is the information that AU needs to move throughout its day-to-day: basically, what do we do?

Within every article, though, you’ll also find the people affected by these policies, including their feelings, fears and ideas. As The Eagle’s first COVID-19 beat reporters, Ben and I have to figure out how to report on this pandemic and the various ways in which it’s impacted our University. We’re still learning as we go, but so far we have been able to steadily count on the pulse of the community to provide us with a roadmap for our work. Our goal is to cover this moment in history in a way that will tell both current and future readers not just what AU’s guidelines were, but how the community reacted, engaged and ultimately endured.

The lightning speed with which this pandemic swept in and transformed our lives has taught us that we will never know exactly what to expect from the world around us. So we will and must continue to roll with the punches as the semester unfolds. All we know for now is that, as we move forward, we will continue to center our reporting on the facts that the community needs to know and, in turn, the community voices that bring them to life.