The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday January 20th

Column: Here's to moving past Zoom and into the real world of sports media

PJ Morales is the Sports Editor for the 2021-2022 school year.
Buy Photos PJ Morales is the Sports Editor for the 2021-2022 school year.

A few weeks ago, the UNC men’s basketball team told members of the media some important news.

For the rest of the season, whenever a road venue was hosting in-person press conferences, the Tar Heels would do those, instead of the postgame Zoom press calls that had become commonplace during the pandemic.

Naturally, as the sports editor of a college newspaper with limited resources who had spent most of the past two years adjusting to life through a Zoom gallery, I was upset.

If anything, Zoom had made mine and my writers’ jobs easier. Instead of worrying about missing out on basketball coverage if we couldn’t send our college student writers to L.A. or Connecticut on a busy Tuesday night, we were always within a URL’s reach of a press conference, interview for a story or, really, anything we needed.

After I heard that news, my mind began frantically running with all these questions: Were my writers available to travel? How would I organize all the replacements if I needed them? Would we miss games?

Then, in that haze of stress and speed-spiraling, a thought hit me square in the face — I had, and still have, never been to a live postgame press conference before.

Sure, I’ve spoken to players and coaches on the sidelines after a game as a scared first-year writer, but I — someone who has edited sports stories for The Daily Tar Heel for nearly a year and written them for two — have never interviewed players or coaches speaking from a podium after a game, any game.

After writing just a handful of stories as a first-year in the spring of 2020, everything went online — my journalism career included. I’ve spent pretty much every moment of my life since that shutdown doing sports writing or editing of some kind all from the comfort of my own computer screen.

But that’s changing now, and I’m scared because the new normal is all I know.

Most of my time at both UNC and the DTH has been conducted through a monitor and a camera, not among other students or journalists. I still haven't covered a football game in-person. What does that say about my time doing this thing I love? Does it make my journalism career any less real? Did being a student at Zoom University, watching my professors do math or discuss history on a small collection of pixels, make that experience, or any experience, less … real?

Well, hold on, think about what we did.

We, the thousands of students at an often-outdated University, made a fairly seamless transition to fully online learning. In a matter of weeks, we were able to take our entire learning experience virtual, not by choice, but by necessity.

Student journalists across the country did whatever they could to keep working. Interviews and research for stories went digital, photographers began taking FaceTime portraits of their subjects and newsroom planning meetings all took place over the airwaves.

We may not have realized it at the time, but as a society, as a social species desperate to communicate, we found ways to stay together and stay active when it was nearly impossible. 

We blazed new paths and proved that society, even digitally, could go on.

Gradually, of course, things have started going back to normal — and for good reason. Classes are often better when students are in a learning environment, building a rapport with their professors and peers. Press conferences are better when you can sense how a room is feeling, especially when a deafening silence gives a reporter’s bombshell question that extra oomf.

I’m excited to attend my first in-person press conference, just as excited as I was to get back to my first in-person class in three semesters.

But I’m still scared. I’m scared because I got comfortable with how things worked. I got used to the change, and now it’s changing back on me.

But if this pandemic and this year have taught me anything, it’s that the world is always calling to you — always — whether that's through a desk in Phillips Hall, a press podium in the Dean Smith Center or even a gallery of faces on a Zoom call.

@pjdaman12

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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