Sports

Column: The Honest Thoughts of a Journalist Reporting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mary Grace Ritter | The PhoenixTouching hair is often a nervous habit associated with anxiety.

During this pandemic, journalists have become even more of a primary source of public communication. Journalists are getting the recognition they deserve — yet I’m struggling to fulfill my duties as a journalist in this pivotal time. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond happy people are recognizing the importance of journalism, especially student journalism. It’s also important we don’t start romanticizing the process of journalism and ignore the real mental health issues many of us are facing. 

Yes, this includes me. 

About an hour before our weekly editors meeting back on March 16, I had a panic attack. 

I had just moved back to St. Louis after Loyola said all students had to move out of the residence halls within a week. I had to move three days after the announcement because my parents are both considered essential staff at their workplaces and they couldn’t pick me up the following week. 

So, March 16 I’m sitting in my childhood room — where I vowed just a week prior I wouldn’t live again  — trying to wrap my head around everything: a freaking pandemic, online classes, my internship ending, not getting to say goodbye to any of my friends and still putting out a paper. 

I cried. I remember my mom coming in and asking why I was so upset. I said I didn’t know how I was going to be able to sit there and write an article or even lay out a paper when I genuinely — in that moment — didn’t see the point. How was I supposed to tell a story when everything inside of me was screaming to give up?

With red-rimmed eyes, I sucked it up and I paid attention to our editor-in-chief’s rallying speech. Let’s just say I was happy when that phone call was over. 

But then I faced the actual issue. How was I going to write an article? I didn’t know the answer. Hell, I still don’t. Despite the emptiness that was setting in, I bucked up and wrote two articles — one for news and one for sports. 

I’m proud of the coverage I’ve done in the past couple of weeks. But it doesn’t mean I’m mentally there. I’ve written every week, and there are so many stories I want to do but then remember we’re in a pandemic and I shut down. 

I’m a sports writer and there are no sports. My internship was postponed because of this virus. We’re not putting out papers. I missed our last full production night because I had strep throat. 

I’m feeling a bit hopeless. 

No matter what I write it all comes back to COVID-19 and honestly, I don’t need to be reminded of the dark and dreary times we’re in right now. I read the news. I watch the news. I see the numbers.

Yes, I know it’s all hands on deck trying to get the coverage out. I’m doing my best. But there doesn’t seem to be a line between the job and our lives for us journalists. Sometimes I’m compromising my own mental health just to do the job in today’s current events — and what sucks is I know I’m not alone. 

I haven’t left my house in 16 days because three of my five family members are still leaving for work and we have to limit the amount of people going in and out. My little brother is immunocompromised. I’m terrified because if the virus gets to our house, he could die. 

How am I supposed to muster up the courage to interview someone when it’s going to come back to this virus and I’m going to be reminded of that?

I’m numb. I’m struggling to write. Yeah, I feel like I’m betraying everything I signed up for when I have these thoughts of just stopping. But at this point, I don’t really care about my coverage or the fact I’m going to need a job once I graduate. 

Frankly, the only reason I’m putting words to paper is because I don’t want to let anyone down. The Phoenix is still putting out content and I’m an editor. I can’t stop. I don’t want to disappoint my fellow editors because they’re doing just as much as me.

I just want to feel that giddy feeling I used to feel when I write. I don’t feel it right now. 

As journalists covering this awful situation, we’re so focused on how everyone else is feeling — not how we’re feeling as humans. 

I’m going to admit it: I’m anxious. I don’t know how to get out of bed in the mornings — really, the afternoons — and I don’t know how much longer I can continue to keep writing before I crack.

But I’ll continue to do it, because it’s my job. And I love my job.

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