Before the evidence of a global pandemic was undeniable in our country, my semester was already far different from all my others throughout college.
In January, I had to have my gallbladder removed after years of extreme stomach pain and increasingly distressing digestive issues. While some of these symptoms continue to persist post surgery and have affected my time as a student journalist prior to surgery, the recovery process made me anxious to start my last semester at the University of Illinois.
Returning to campus, I received a note from DRES saying that I could not carry anything over 10 pounds. For many other majors, this would not be an issue. For a broadcast journalism major, this had me concerned how I would manage to complete all assignments carrying heavy camera equipment. Luckily, I was able to assistant produce UI7 News Broadcast 1 and lead produce Broadcast 2.
In TV1, I had the opportunity to produce with Alex, leaving me with such a sense of accomplishment that I was eager to try again. As a producer for TV2, I was able to contribute organizational, editing and creative skills, along with leadership abilities, to design beautiful newscasts.
At the beginning of the semester, I remember staying up late one Wednesday night at Richmond Studio with Dan, Taylor and several other students to plan the first newscast. As the trailblazers, we were overly nervous how this production would go. That morning, we received an email saying the show should be an hour and see what we can do. At the time, I was about to walk into work, which is in a courthouse where I could not have my phone at the time. So with any little communication I could use, Dan, Taylor and I turned a half hour prepared show into a successful one hour newscast.
Though there are things we did not accomplish in our first broadcast and though it made me extremely anxious, this situation showed me my ability to perform under pressure. In the moments the newscast began, I realized an unrecognized passion for producing.
Besides the benefit of not having to carry equipment while recovering, the opportunity to produce was imperative to know what abilities I can bring to the table in the job market. Through work this semester, I have been able to fully recognize my love for writing, storytelling, editing and organizing.
The Rise of a Global Pandemic
It was around 8 p.m. in Urbana and more than half the TV2 class was at Richmond Studio working on packages or news updates for the last class before spring break. It was almost as if the United States recognized the severity of the coronavirus within a matter of hours. Colleges were going online after breaks, the NCAA cancelled games, the NBA suspended the season and Tom Hanks tested positive for COVID-19.
This would have been an incredible amount of information to process as a college student, but we had a job to complete. Many of us stayed late into the night to complete news updates as a team, which showed me the bond our class made even in the short two months we had together. In hindsight, I’d like to think we wanted to complete the assignment because we were all committed journalists. But more likely than not, we were also trying to escape reality — unable to accept how our lives were about to change.
Especially for myself, I’ve realized how much more I thrive in busy, stressful situations. I recognized this in college and, as a student, have become heavily involved in various organizations, worked several jobs and enroll in the maximum amount of credit hours each semester. Going from my naturally busy, organized self to suddenly being ordered to shelter-in-place has been a huge shift mentally.
To stay busy, I still make a schedule for myself to work on my schoolwork, read for a while each day, cook something new for my family to also go on my blog, workout or go for a walk, watch the news and work on a puzzle with my mom.
However, I’m sure educators and students alike can recognize the impact of technology during this time. Like what was mentioned at the start of the semester, cell phones are a monumental innovation for journalists. In this climate more than ever, we are able to take photos and video, record audio clips and compose written stories all from the palm of our hand. Breaking news can be more “breaking” as communication shifts to social media and instant calling and messaging. This became clear throughout the semester, but also enabled us to continue to do our job amidst national stay-in-place orders.
As the weeks have passed by, the more frightened I have become for the situation the country is in and the more it impacts my mental wellbeing. Though being home has been beneficial to my recovery process from gallbladder removal, it has also made me less motivated and actually less determined to accomplish projects to the best of my ability. As a journalist, though, I have realized the absolute need for the press and how crucial it is that we have honest and quality reporting in these times.
Reporting Amid COVID-19
Though I’m reminded each day of the negative effects of this virus, which I believe is invaluable to recognize, I have been trying to look for any positive to keep my spirits up. Staying active and keeping my food blog have been beneficial in keeping hope alive. Fortunately, I was also given an opportunity I wouldn’t have otherwise had if it not for this quarantine.
At the end of March, the head of the digital department of NBC Chicago called me to explain they had a job opening available, but I would have to start in two weeks. Had I been in Champaign, I would have to deny the offer. But because I was already working remotely just outside the city of Chicago, I was eager to accept the offer.
This past summer I had interned for NBC Chicago Investigates and would email this woman I’m sure a much too excessive amount asking about potential job openings. Though in the interview I could speak about my time at NBC, I was also able to draw on experiences in TV2 such as the time of producing an hour newscast after originally thinking it would be only a half hour show. Incredibly grateful, I can now say I am a digital media producer for NBC and use what I have been taught in TV2 for each shift so far.
Having to keep up with news on a daily basis, I have seen how pivotal it is to be aware of what is happening across the world and strike a balance between necessary and hopeful content. As the head of NBC Digital and NBC News Chicago told me, it is more rewarding now than ever to give the news to people who hunger for knowledge and rely on journalists to give them essential information.
Being a citizen of the United States has gone hand in hand for me as being a journalist. There is a feeling of commitment to the the country to save lives, but also give hope so those on the front line don’t give up. Having the man we have leading our country terrifies me even more. Not only because there seems to be a denial of the seriousness of this pandemic and continual attacks on the media — the ones delivering truth to a country who needs it now more than ever, but also because he is making a global pandemic a partisan matter. Saving human lives from an unexpected pandemic should not be drawn down party lines and that mindset could heavily alter the public’s cooperation during an extremely crucial time. That scares me. That makes me want to be a better journalist.
Ever since starting this job and keeping busy again, I have felt more motivated to complete schoolwork, daily projects, keep a healthy lifestyle and become a quality journalist in such a crucial time. Though a tragic and difficult time, I have found my strengths and weaknesses and can, thus, find confidence in knowing my best abilities.
Looking Back and Moving Forward Post-Pandemic
As many I know would agree, I wish we had more time working together in TV2. However, moving forward, this class and this experience as a student journalist amid a global pandemic has taught me to never take a moment for granted. Even if at times it felt like simple schoolwork to complete, I would give anything to be back in the studio with our team or shooting a package on campus.
Looking back on this past semester on campus, I still believe I grew as a multimedia journalist. I learned to adapt. Because I produced the first two shows, I predicted the rest of my semester would be filmed with shooting and editing packages, VOs and VOSTOVOs. My first VO was for Hack Illinois (4:08), which is the largest Hack-a-thon in Illinois. I planned for this to be a package, but when I got there, my camera equipment would not turn on. For future, I planned to always triple check at home, but at the time this was out of my control. I shot what I could with my phone and made a VO for my News Update.
That same week I decided to film another VO, as another area of Champaign was being declared a “historic district.” (3:25) I planned to make this a VOSOTVO, but my interview audio was almost inaudible that I decided it would just be a VO. Needless to say, this taught me I need to work on shooting and how to best prep for these situations. I learned that the element of physically shooting content is my least favorite part of being a journalist, but I also strive to be better with practice.
The same week, February 21 – March 5, I also wanted to get at least one VOSOTVO done, so I did one on an IDOT town gathering (2:34) in Urbana as construction would soon begin. It was interesting to hear such a variety of perspectives from the town and I could sense the energy in the smaller-than-expected room.
Anchoring this news update was enjoyable for me, but I know I need to strike a balance of professionalism and personality when in front of the camera. For the past three years, I have anchored Good Morning Illini, where I think I have found a way to strike that balance as I am able to be more carefree, per se. If I have the opportunity to anchor or report in the future, I know I need to be aware of this and practice as much as I can even just in front of a mirror or my phone camera at home.
Before leaving for break, I was able to film my first and only package for TV2. The University was hosting an event for International Women’s Day (3:07), which was more speakers than they originally explained. Hence, it was a challenge to find interesting b-roll and I hope the package did not seem too “wallpapered.” On the other hand, I had the opportunity to interview the University Chancellor Robert Jones, which was an exciting opportunity for me.
It’s a shame I will not be able to return to campus to practice the skills upon which I need to improve such as fixing shooting technicalities, using cleaner editing and maintaining energy as a reporter and anchor. However, this time quarantined at home in Chicago has taught me we can be journalists anywhere at any time if there is a story to be told. If we are creative and use critical thinking skills, we can tell still tell a story through written word, text or email messages, photos and videos shot on our phones and audio recordings also taken on a handheld digital device.
“Graduating” in mid-May seems even more surreal from our homes instead of on campus with close friends and life-changing professors, but I am taking away from Champaign much more than a degree. Thinking back on my experiences in college, I can truly say the University of Illinois built much of who I am today. My beliefs and skills have been challenged, along with my mental and physical strength. I have overcome more than I thought I ever could and can only thank the people who constantly challenged me to be better, who tend to be the same people who have shown me true appreciation and compassion.
Thank you, Professor Collins, for teaching us more than journalism this semester. You’ve shown us how to better our entire lives and how to be good, authentic, determined young men and women. Thank you to the entire TV2 class for constantly having each others backs and being the greatest support system I could have ever asked for these past four years. This semester has been far different than expected, but I am grateful for every minute of it.