‘I Hate Saturdays,’ says Distant Learning Students

What is it like Being in a Virtual Program?


Staff Photo by Virginia Bates

Attending a virtual journalistic work program with students and mentors on Zoom

Virginia Bates, Editor: Daphne Nwobike

My junior year has been a tough experience. I’ve acquired a new learning style I didn’t know would positively benefit my grades. I used to have trouble getting up to go to class when I was in the school building. Now, with my situation of finding the motivation to get up, get ready, and get all my things to go to school, it hasn’t been that stressful. 

Distance learning, in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, has allowed me to look into college and career choices. I want to be a journalist when I grow up, and I wanted to get into some programs that can hone my writing skills and benefit me in the future. However, being in a virtual program is an entirely different experience. 

My journalism teacher sent me information about some journalism programs, so I joined. One of them was a black journalism workshop. My initial reaction upon visiting the website was one of awe. Although I’ve never heard of them before, they seemed exceptionally diverse and official. 

I applied with some 300-word essays, and I struggled as a perfectionist to get it right. I waited months for them to contact me after sending in my application. After waiting what seemed like forever, I still had hope. On a bright afternoon on Thursday, February 25, I received a personal email from the workshop informing me that I had been accepted.

“Dear Miss Virginia Bates,

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to participate in the Washington Association of Black Journalists annual winter/spring Urban Journalism Workshop (UJW) for 2021. This is the 35th year of the program.”

I remember screaming so loud that the next-door neighbors could hear me and running downstairs to show my mom the letter. 

The virtual program runs eight Saturdays from February 27 to April 17. I was so excited! The program officially started that following Saturday, and I want my first impression to be perfect. I read the letter for the requirements from start to finish. I had to research something for the 35th anniversary, take notes during the zoom meetings, and put my camera on, which was not a problem. Then, I read something that made me regret signing up for this program.

The program runs from 9 AM to 4 PM. That meant I had to be on zoom on camera for seven hours every Saturday. My mother noticed this too, but we assumed that there would be breaks in between. Yet, when it came to attending the workshop, on most days, there were only singular five-minute breaks.

The first day was running slow and was boring. I took notes throughout the day, and the only thing we talked about was ourselves and what happened 35 years ago. 

I also took notes on my mental status at that point. 

The following Saturday was overwhelming. We worked on leads and graphs, and she invited a Northwestern University student to the zoom call, and we had to interview her on the spot. 

The third Saturday was honestly the best because the advisor brought radio and broadcast journalists, and we did some fun activities. I even met a student that goes to my school. We talked in private chat to each other, not really paying attention to the lesson, after we did our activities and the advisor started talking. 

It was engaging because I found my middle ground. However, every Saturday after that, it just went downhill. 

On the fourth Saturday, I didn’t track my mental state. I wasn’t paying attention at all, and the advisor brought another broadcast journalist to talk about editing. It was clear to me that this program was a little biased. The advisor was a radio journalist at NPR, and she kept bringing either of her coworkers or people she ran into in the past. 

Also, the advisor just kept on talking for ages, and when she said we’re going to have a break soon, she taught for another 30 minutes until we only had a five-minute break.

I didn’t come to the two Saturdays after that. Not on purpose; I just had to travel to my family in Virginia and spend time with them. When I was traveling back from Virginia, I was super irritated when I got an email from the advisor. 

“Pleasant greetings,

Connecting because you were missed Saturday. Perhaps I’ve overlooked correspondence, but I was unaware you would be absent. Remind me if I am forgetting a mention. You missed a great session on multi-media as well as new media formats including social media and podcasting; plus editing audio.”

I was unconcerned with the email and the program at this point. It was so relaxing to get my Saturday back. It’s not a class, so I wasn’t going to be marked absent for skipping a day or two. The advisor treats it like a sin. The Saturday after that, I did email her that I was going to be absent again.

“Just two more weeks and I can finally be done with this program,” I kept telling myself. “Two more weeks and I can be free.” On the sixth and almost final Saturday, I did attend. The advisor wanted to do a final project before we concluded this program. She gave us free rein to pitch our story ideas that went beyond just a topic and cover the story, including interviewing people either through print, audio, or visual story.

Since I didn’t come to most meetings, I was quite confused about some of the terminology, but I figured it out as other students went first.

I also messaged the other student that went to the same school as me. Funny enough, she skipped some Saturdays too. We agreed that we both hated Saturdays now, and the advisor was doing too much.

My story would focus on students’, parents’, and teachers’ views and opinions about returning to school. This topic was going to be simple for me because I’d already begun work on a semi-project and had recorded an entire protest rally of teachers and parents opposing the school’s reopening.

Since some of the stories students pitched focused on similar ideas, we were all going to work on a coronavirus package and work with assigned mentors. The stories in the coronavirus package dealt with how principals were coping, what students hope for the future, what students think about returning to the school building when it’s safe.

I already had an idea to tell the story my way, but free rein isn’t always freedom to act independently of one’s discretion. The mentors didn’t want me to merely narrate a story about people who were against the reopening of the school building. Instead, they wanted me to interview some students who desired to return to school so I could discern their perspectives.

In my mind, I wanted to scream “NO,” but I didn’t want to be that kind of person that doesn’t put effort into a project like this.

The advisor asked that we keep in touch with our mentors and submit our scripts and story drafts. Of course, I didn’t do that. I actually started writing my script and editing my video two days before the final Saturday.

I genuinely had no motivation to do this but still wanted this done. I didn’t go out much to interview people but had pre-recorded videos of students, parents, and teachers talking about the situation of the school building reopening. So basically, I cheated, but I made it work.

It kind of sucks that we had to do this project in two weeks. If I had started it earlier, this would have been less stressful and more organized. Even some of the mentors were complaining about how the advisor set us up.

When the final Saturday was finally here, I wasn’t able to finish my video. Surprisingly, but not really, many students didn’t either, so we spent time in separate breakout rooms talking to our mentors and finalizing our stories.

I had the mentor I didn’t really pay attention to from the fourth Saturday. It was a little bit awkward, but we were cool with each other. He specializes in editing, so he gave me a few tips on improving my story.

Once I spent a few hours in the meeting finishing up my story, I sent it to him for review. I was surprised when he told me that he loved it but there needed to be a few changes.

A broadcast story was only supposed to be about two minutes long, but I did four. So we spent a couple of minutes reviewing and trying to pick out a few things to get close to the preferred minute mark.

Once we finished, it was 4 o’clock, and this program was probably going to be completed. So I hoped. I emailed my video to the advisor, and relief came out of my body when I hit send.

“It’s finally over,” I kept telling myself. The last Saturday couldn’t have gone any better.

I was so proud of myself for getting through that whole experience. I posted my projects on my YouTube channel, showing my family, friends, and journalism teacher what I have accomplished. I was so relieved from what I went through.

The last official Journalism Workshop has ended… or so I thought.

I got an email late Friday, April 23, saying we were in overtime. I asked if I needed to attend since the mentor said my story was complete, but she still needed to look at what I submitted.

She also told me that she follows my Twitter page, and she enjoyed my inner thoughts. It bothered her that she didn’t get this during the zoom meetings.

“Being on Zoom is a different environment that people aren’t used to because there’s not much connection,” I told her.

She shot back an email disagreeing with my statement.

“I believe it’s what you make it. That said, I realize there are limitations; everyone is different and engages/connects differently, and video communication probably is more engaging for those who already know each other.

Glad I got to speak a little more you on Twitter, which is ironic because while we may learn something about someone, it’s a false sense of knowing someone, in my opinion, if you never personally engage with them and spend time with them either in person.” she stated

I did only half agree since I did make some friends this year, virtually, but I’m glad I had that little connection with her.

She said to give her an hour for her response and an hour turned into six hours, so she sent her email close to midnight. So I saw her email when I woke up on a beautiful Saturday morning. It was not the email I wanted to read.

She sent me a list of things that she wanted me to change. One of the things was about the time and other small things I could’ve changed.

“Those are my first observations. That said, I think you should join tomorrow.”

I couldn’t remember what time I awoke, but I didn’t want to complain, so I went to work right away, making most of the changes she suggested but not all of them because I wanted to keep most of the story and couldn’t shorten the time.

When I joined the zoom meeting, I had worked with her, and as much as she was annoying, she had wisdom, and I listened to her. We laughed at one part of my story because of the movie magic I had put in.

I had my friend record the last scene when I was outside and talking, but I wasn’t really talking. I voice a memo of that part outside of my house. She was impressed with my work and how I made it seem like I was actually talking in that scene.

That was pretty much the only moment I enjoyed with her after I sent in my final piece with the title, blurb, and suggested intro for the host. I was officially, and I mean officially, done with everything.

The Elements of Style sent by Del Wilber, an enterprise and investigative reporter in the Los Angeles Times. (Staff Photo by Virginia Bates)

Those seven Saturdays have been one heck of an experience. I know everything happens for a reason, and there are lessons to be learned. As much as I was stressed and didn’t like it as much as I thought I would, I did learn a bit about radio and broadcast journalism and what it is all about.

I also met a few people through the guest she brought us and won a book from a journalist in LA, which could help me in the future.

Times like ones in a pandemic are stressful for everyone, and I’m glad the advisor did wake up every Saturday to get some guests for us to talk to and learn about.

I might not have enjoyed it as much, but I hope other students did.

Even with that said, I’m still so happy I can sleep in on Saturdays again.