As the pandemic forced industries across the board to change how they operated, journalism, too, had to reinvent. Phone interviews replaced on-site visits; Zoom calls became de rigeur; access came to refer not only to a journalist’s access to their sources, but also to everyone’s access to necessary technologies.
It’s been a tough time to report, and yet, the work has never been more vital. The fissures in our society became more exposed as debates over science and politics and racial justice raged across the nation. “Journalism is the rough first draft of history,” an old saying goes. How all the events of the past 18 months will be remembered, and what impact they’ll have on us as not just a society, but as a species, falls largely at the feet of those reporting on them.
Teaching journalism over these 18 months hasn’t been easy, either, and in many ways those challenges mirror the challenges in the industry at large. We’ve had to adjust assignments so they can be completed without leaving one’s home; each of us, students and faculty alike, have dealt with technology failures; and Blackboard is a sore substitute for in-person teaching. We weren’t just assembling the plane while it was in the air; we were reinventing what a plane even is.
And yet, like journalism itself, we got through it. We taught courses in News Literacy, Reporting & Writing, TV News Production, Magazine Writing and many others. Students produced excellent, nuanced work looking at the social inequities brought about by the pandemic, and found ways to do the work that did not endanger themselves or their sources. We had numerous students apply and gain admission to graduate programs. Life, in other words, went on.
Naturally, some students did fall through the cracks in ways that might have been avoided pre-pandemic. Family, health and economic challenges were common and significant. And taking classes online is hard. For some, these challenges proved difficult to surmount. After all, students were reinventing the plane while it was in the air too. We can’t always control the chaos; we can only try to make sense of it once the dust has settled.
As we return to campus this semester, we can begin to reflect on what the past 18 months have meant, as students, professors, journalists, and New Yorkers. What we produce this semester may not make it into the New York Times or on CNN, but in our communities, it will provide a rough first attempt to make some sense of this extraordinary time.
It’s the least we can do, and it matters a lot.