By Julio Vega
SJI Class of 2020
I walked into College Park Center on the campus of University of Texas at Arlington on March 11 ready to cover the Sun Belt Conference women’s basketball tournament. What I wasn’t ready for was the domino effect that day would lead to.
As I sat there in the press row watching the conference tournament game, one eye was always on my Twitter feed on my separate tab on my computer.
“Conference tournaments without fans.”
“Conference tournaments canceled.”
The season ended that day for the UTA’s women’s basketball team. The Lady Mavericks lost in the Sun Belt quarterfinals, to the University of South Alabama 55-47. But at least they played, before college basketball post-season prematurely ended.
Many other teams after that weren’t so lucky — including my own team, the sports desk of The Shorthorn, UTA’s student newspaper. The cancellation directly impacted us.
The athletic department suddenly restricted access to coaches and athletes. For nearly a month, our requests for interviewing coaches and players were put on hold. Communication became only talk with the athletic director for the first few weeks,
It wasn’t until mid-April that we were able to speak with coaches only via Zoom calls and get their perspectives on how they were impacted by the pandemic.
With the limited access, we went about trying other ways to tell sports stories with limited success. We wrote about how each of the teams’ coaches coped with the pandemic, wrote updates on local professional sports, and wrote about how everyday athletes stayed fit during the closure.
I never figured that spring break of 2020 would change everything. I was supposed to go home for a few days off, but not stay there for the rest of the academic year.
This wasn’t how I imagined my final semester as a college student.
As classes went online and our school closed to the public, the entire newsroom staff was displaced. We stopped printing our weekly newspaper, and we moved all of our content online. Publishing online was nothing new for The Shorthorn staff, but the biggest challenge was doing it all remotely without the newsroom as the central hub.
Editors and reporters worked from home, and interviews were done via phone and video calls, a form of socially distant reporting. Luckily, we had our Google Drive setup and Blox CMS to keep up with our work.
Some reporters thrived in this situation, mainly the folks on the news desk covering every local and statewide update of the coronavirus. Others, like myself, struggled a bit more.
The transition to online classes was also tedious for me. Two of the three classes I took this semester revolved heavily on video production, including television reporting, which was probably hit the hardest.
We produced a weekly newscast for UTA News with digital stories and packages, but now with the lack of access to labs, to equipment and people on campus, we had to switch gears. I co-produced a virtual newscast where our student reporters told first-person stories with phones, cameras and school-issued Adobe Creative Cloud services about how the pandemic affected them.
I lived in an apartment near campus, but I finished the semester at my family’s home in Ferris, Texas, 20 miles south of Dallas. Our house isn’t big, but it’s cozy enough to fit my parents and two younger sisters. Most nights I slept on the couch, but every so often I’d take over my youngest sister’s room to get better rest.
I enjoy my family’s company, but it was difficult to balance my work with The Shorthorn, class work and the heavy outdoor obligations at home, mainly helping my dad on his 18-wheeler maintenance. Most days I worked at the kitchen table or the borrowed room, but could also find myself in the laundry room on rowdier days.
Everything that I planned for this year was uprooted. I was supposed to graduate from UTA, spend 10 weeks in Washington D.C as an intern with USA Today Sports, then enter the job market with a vast sum of experience.
I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting, but my graduation ceremony was postponed. My internship was pushed back to the fall. My prospects of getting a job after college dwindled, especially under the current job market of historic lows. I’ve even tried to look for a part-time job in the industry, but with no luck.
My state of mind has been tested, my self-confidence cracked, but the biggest lesson in all of this is that it’s okay to be lost, but not to be consumed by the pressure and stress caused by the pandemic and its aftermath.
It’s been the biggest challenge of my life trying to piece everything together during this pandemic. I’m not saying it will be easy for me to climb out of this hole, but this obstacle will help me forge forward, in my life and in my career.
Journalism — in all its shapes and forms — will continue on, but it’ll adapt. We have to adapt with it — if we want to keep moving forward.