What it’s like to graduate from journalism school during a pandemic

As a recent journalism graduate, I can’t help but wonder, what’s next for me and my classmates?

June 12, 2020

Let’s be clear on one thing: We never really expected to graduate with jobs in the first place.

In journalism, and especially on the print side, my friends and classmates in the University of Missouri’s class of 2020 understood that graduating with a job would be wonderful, but unlikely. We expected, however, that we would all get jobs shortly after graduation, perhaps within a month of commencement. At the very least, by the time the summer was over, we would know what we would be doing come September.

But that expectation is looking grim. Newsrooms are facing layoffs, furloughs and closures at a pace unmatched in American journalism history. Like many other new journalists, I celebrated commencement virtually, watching my name scroll by on a video posted to Facebook, signaling my graduation from the place that was my home for the last four years.

I’m more fortunate than most students graduating during a pandemic. In late February, I was offered an internship at the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact. At the time, I was in New York City with MU’s Magazine Club — four days before the first confirmed COVID-19 case in the city.

When I applied to PolitiFact, I was also in the middle of applying to graduate school. Although I never expected to have a job before graduating, I was afraid of leaving MU without a summer internship and without getting into grad school. When I got the call from PolitiFact, I could finally exhale.

And then on March 13, senior year started changing.

Two days earlier, MU announced we would be going remote the week before spring break. I was unsurprised by the decision — rumors had been swirling around campus all day. When I got the email confirming the transition to remote classes, I was sitting in the School of Journalism’s cafe and everything went silent. The campus was already more subdued than normal, but you could tell the atmosphere shifted. It was like a movie.

My friend and I were supposed to be studying for our midterm the next day, but this change in schedule meant our midterm would be postponed and, eventually, declared open-book. Sitting in the red, plastic chairs for what would unknowingly be the last time, I was excited, elated and ecstatic to have a prolonged visit home.

When I left MU to quarantine with my family in our home in the Chicago suburbs, I brought with me all my textbooks and class material, thinking I would probably be home for a week or two after spring break was over. I did not expect for classes to be remote for the rest of the semester. I took the last in-person class of my undergraduate career without realizing it.

With the coronavirus changing how college campuses functioned, uncertainty loomed. Suddenly, friends and family members started asking me if I still had my internship. Yes? As far as I know. If I was still going to Florida for my internship. I think so? That’s the plan. If I had gotten into grad school. I hope I will? I haven’t heard back yet.

About a week after I got home, I was accepted to grad school, and later that same day, received an email with the subject line: “Internship very much still on.” Despite all the chaos around me, I felt I had some semblance of a post-grad plan. I couldn’t believe it.

A lot of my classmates weren’t so lucky. Summer jobs and internships were getting canceled. A friend of mine who studied journalism had gotten her internship in the fall of 2019 only for it to be canceled in the spring. Even if newsrooms allowed their interns to defer their internship to the fall or next summer, the seniors were out of luck. They were graduating. There is no deferral. There is just finding a job — somehow.

MORE FROM POYNTER: How do you launch a journalism career in the middle of a pandemic?

Some of my classmates have found first jobs in spite of the pandemic. My roommate, a fellow journalism major, was offered a job at a broadcast station in March and will still be starting in June. Another friend and classmate got an offer shortly after graduation and just started her job as a local TV reporter.

As a journalist coming out of a school that builds its foundation on local news, I know the importance of local coverage, especially during this crisis. Even though my classmates and I were trained through the Missouri Method — a teaching method that means we “learn by doing” — my classmates are struggling to find their place in the professional world.

At this point, I know the answers to the questions my friends and family were asking me in March. Yes, I still have my internship. Yes, I’ll be going to Florida, but I’ll be primarily working remotely. Yes, I got into grad school, but I’ll have remote classes.

But the uncertainty is still there. What reality will look like in September is unsure

What I do know is this: On the day before a MU student’s first year starts, you line up with the other freshmen on the north side of the columns near downtown Columbia. You all run through the columns toward Jesse Hall and get your free Tiger Stripe ice cream, starting your college years as a Tiger.

On the Friday before your last set of finals, you’re supposed to line up with the other soon-to-be graduates on the south side of the columns near Jesse Hall. Then, you would run through the columns toward downtown and get your free beer, marking the end of your college career.

This year, it’s just one tradition across campuses nationwide that went uncompleted by university seniors. We didn’t get the chance to run through the columns for free beer or cross the stage. Now, we’re all just waiting for our opportunity to be on campus together again, waiting for our journalism careers to start and waiting for our futures to take hold.

Sabrina Brons is an audience engagement intern at PolitiFact.

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  • I’m a student of English from Nigeria and to be honest, I have no idea of how to be journalist without going to school of journalism 😩