The Journey We Never Expected


A Semester Reflection Written By: Danielle Catlett

In general, my journey this semester was both difficult and unpredictable, however, it was beneficial in the sense that it simulated what the experience in a real, working newsroom would be like. I most learned the importance of being able to work under pressure, and the necessity of getting tasks accomplished as early as possible. Though I did not have the opportunity to go out and film packages and vo/vosots as often as I wanted to, I did enjoy coming together to produce a newscast alongside my fellow classmates every other week. I especially enjoyed the opportunity I had to anchor one of our full- length newscasts. 'I had the opportunity to see my work progress throughout the semester, beginning from two VOSOT's and a VO that I filmed. I was able to film the grand opening of The CBD Store located on Neil Street, the Champaign-Urbana annual CU's Got Talent Showcase and the Illinois vs. Northwestern wrestling match. I was able to include all of these pieces in a 5-minute self-produced news update. In addition to this, I also had the opportunity to later film a package on the Urbana Poet Laureate Showcase and run playback for our second newscast and second round of news updates.

Credit: Danielle Catlett
Me studying from home during the coronavirus lockdown.

In comparison to other semesters, it was very difficult to make an adjustment from in-person learning to online learning. As a journalism major there is always an expectation to be doing a lot of hands on learning, however, with a global pandemic outbreak, that simply became an impossible task. As an aspiring journalist, I feel that I missed out on part of the experience that I was hoping to gain by losing half of the semester, but I also learned how to work under the conditions of a national lockdown.

Credit: Danielle Catlett
Drivers traveling down I-57 following J.B. Pritzker's announcement of a statewide Stay-at-Home Order.

As a student, this journey was different because it is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced before. I am sure many of us have taken one or two online classes before, but to take every single class online at the same time has proven to be quite a challenge, especially when, as a journalist, much of the job is learned by getting out and doing. In this respect, I had to decide whether I wanted to return to my on-campus apartment or remain in Chicago for the rest of the semester. Ultimately, I decided that I would likely have a better work ethic if I returned to Champaign. It was especially disheartening to learn that our graduation ceremonies had been postponed or cancelled after working so hard for four years and finally being able to have our families and friends watch us receive our diplomas. Personally, the fact that myself and so many others across the country are experiencing this issue is extremely disheartening.

As a citizen of the country, it has been very difficult for me to adjust to our current way of life, especially being a very social person. However, despite that, I feel that it is our duty as human beings to stay home as much as we possibly can and do whatever we can within our power to minimize the spread of the virus. I have found some ways to cope with having to stay inside for such extended periods of time, including taking walks and visiting local nature preserves.

Credit: Danielle Catlett''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''
University of Illinois student Garret Barch takes a walk through Busey Woods Nature Preserve

Technology has played a major role in my journey because it is truly the only way we, as students, have been able to continue with our studies. Without access to technology, the entire semester itself would likely have needed to be suspended entirely during the pandemic. Considering that technology is an important aspect of journalism, I feel that I learned a lot of new information relating to technology in the newsroom, however, I missed out on the knowledge that I could have gained throughout the second half of the semester had the pandemic not spread as widely as it did. It has definitely proven to be difficult to continue the semester online without having the same access to all of the resources typically offered through the University. In doing our newscasts, I was able to learn how to run the playback system proficiently and how to produce the weather graphics, as well as anchoring for both the weather segment and an entire newscast. I was also able to further improve my skills in editing using the Adobe Premiere editing software. Unfortunately, the program itself is more difficult to use on my personal laptop than the Mac desktops we had access to in the classroom, but overall, I have still been able to gain a wealth of knowledge through the technology I did get to interact with.

Credit: Danielle Catlett
The Illini Union, normally a hub for student activities, closed in the midst of the pandemic.

When I first heard about the virus in China, I didn't necessarily think much of it because China is so far removed geographically from the U.S. though it is a major source of economic interaction for us. I felt empathetic for the people there who were having to deal with the virus and any students that may have been there from other countries for education or visiting. I thought back on when I actually had the opportunity to travel there several years back and hoped that China would be able to take the measures, they needed to really contain the spread of the virus as well. I also assumed that the U.S. government would take the necessary precautions to make sure that it didn't spread as much as it had because of the severity of the situation. But as time went on and the virus continued to spread to other countries, I grew more worried considering how it seemed to debilitate healthcare systems and economies, suspending non-essential travel and jobs. The virus had begun to ramp up with alarming speed near the university's spring break, making its way to every continent and there had even been a confirmed case or two in Chicago. Prior to this, I had been working on a package on a professional artist on the University campus. It was left unfinished and due to the stay-at-home orders, leaving me to instead turn it into a print story with soundbites from the artist's interview.

Throughout the process, my feelings have changed because of the way in which we were taught to handle changes in the original plan through this class. For example, when out filming my second package on the Black and Latinx Women's Summit, I ran into a lot of audio related issues and it was very difficult to find quiet places to conduct interviews. It was also very difficult to gather footage of the event itself because of the limited space and the set-up of the room. However, I managed to find a means of working with the footage I had gathered. I also was able to stretch the 10 seconds of natural sound I had under the video. Despite this being the most difficult event I filmed all semester, I managed to find a means of making it work. Similarly, in class we have typically managed to find a means of making things work in the end despite all of the restrictions and constraints we have come to encounter.' Because the transition to online learning was so sudden, I found myself wondering 'how can we possibly still do journalism as aspiring journalists in the midst of a pandemic?' But after we collectively worked together with Dr. Collins as a class to come up with a manageable way of tackling the rest of the semester, I felt much more confident about the rest of the semester.

Credit: Danielle Catlett
Myself and other shoppers searching for toilet paper and other household items among the empty shelves

I believe that I viewed everything that has been happening from both the perspective of a media messenger and like everyone else. For example, as a citizen, I felt the same concern and confusion over the sudden shortage of toilet paper and cleaning supplies as others. However, I also wondered what was causing this stent of panic buying and why it was happening now as opposed to during other outbreaks. I feel that I have kept in mind the necessity of consuming news from multiple different outlets as there can typically be some form of underlying bias. On the other hand, when the average American finds a news source they like, they tend to stick to that one singularly.

The lessons, skills, talents, and insights that I have found to play a major role in the success of my assignment are time management and persistence. Especially in relation to longer assignments, I have had a difficult time actually focusing and completing work from home because I got so accustomed to studying in the library. However, by doing a certain amount of work for a set amount of time each day, I've been able to adjust more comfortably to online learning. Working on collective collaborations is a bit easier because of the technology that we have available to us and the ability of each person to contribute their specific skills to complete a task or assignment. Critical thinking skills have also been useful in the context of learning to create and prepare backup plans.

Critical thinking is important to completing assignments and meeting challenges during this time of the Novel Coronavirus because of the uncertainty associated with our new way of life. Many of us are relying on technology to continue our jobs or education, as well as for communication with friends and family we do not live with. In the instance of technological failures or needing to change the structural makeup of classes or work, it is imperative that we are able to think critically about how we can find solutions to the challenges we will be facing. During the pandemic, this will also be important for doing regular tasks such as grocery shopping or exercising, seeing as how we must find new means of accomplishing these activities while maintaining social distancing.

Self-confidence plays an important role in completing assignments and meeting challenges because it allows you to trust the decisions that you have mad. Self-confidence also acts as a de-stressor because you can trust that, regardless of the number of things you need to do, it will get done in due time.

As I move forward in my life, I have learned from this class that there is always room for improvement in my work. There may be instances where mistakes are made and you have to work with what you have but those mistakes are always learning experiences that help in gaining knowledge. This journey has definitely taught me of ways to adapt to different working environments. It is a huge change transitioning from being in a class that simulates a somewhat hectic newsroom to working directly from home. I have also learned ways that phones can be used as devices for creating a producing media in the event that there is no camera or production crew readily available.

' From this class I am most proud of the video production and editing skills that I was able to improve upon, especially under the circumstances that we ended up facing midway through the semester. I feel that, even though we didn't have much time for in-person classes, we were able to make progress in huge strides over a short period of time. In terms of the semester overall, I am proud of the way that I was able to adapt to such an abrupt change in learning as the coronavirus became a more serious and impending problem. What I will remember most about this class is the way that it has constantly challenged us to prioritize, problem-solve and out forth our very best efforts. For the next person who is a student, I would simply advise them to put forth their best efforts and to not be afraid of failure or asking for assistance when they need it.

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