The COVID-19 pandemic has been at the forefront of local and national media for more than a year with coverage ranging from societal ramifications to personal stories. But during a summer internship, one UA journalism student was determined to provide a voice to those struggling during the pandemic who weren’t in the headlines.
Ceara Burden, a senior majoring in news media and enrolled in the UA Department of Journalism and Creative Media’s accelerated master’s program, spent several weeks over the summer traveling across the nation as an investigative reporter through an internship with Carnegie-Knight News21 producing stories on individuals with disabilities who faced various hardships caused by a lack of resources and support due to the pandemic.
Burden, a native of Lumberton, New Jersey, first heard about the highly competitive internship opportunity through a professor last fall. Following an extensive selection process, Burden learned she was going to be a program participant in December 2020.
News21 is a national reporting initiative headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix. The program selects top journalism students from across the country to report and produce in-depth, multimedia projects for major media outlets.
As the pandemic continued to garner headlines in the news across the nation and globe, Burden was tasked with reporting on a pandemic-related subject as part of News21’s “Unmasking America” series that investigated disparities in policies and practices that intensified under COVID-19. But instead of being assigned a topic, Burden and her News21 team had to choose an area to cover.
Burden says she received her inspiration after meeting a participant in the Best Buddies program who faced a difficult situation due to health and safety restrictions caused by the pandemic.
“I was talking to a young man who mentioned that his doctor advised him to lose some weight, but he didn’t know what to do because the gyms in the area were closed at the time,” said Burden. “That conversation really sparked my curiosity and I started to think about other resources that were restricted around the country.”
Burden started to research the topic and quickly found that there wasn’t much information on the subject available.
“When we started looking for statistics and data on how COVID-19 was affecting those with disabilities, we would search for hours trying to find any information available but didn’t have much success,” said Burden. “It wasn’t long after when one of my sources said that the government really wasn’t keeping track of that information because it wasn’t seen as a priority at the time.
“We saw it as a great opportunity because it was a big topic that wasn’t really covered by the media. But it was very challenging because there were few data, experts or people available to talk.”
Despite numerous challenges, including travel guidelines and scheduling issues, the group was able to interview individuals with disabilities who faced various struggles in California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for the piece, “People with disabilities left behind during COVID-19.”
Through the project, Burden was able to develop her investigative journalism and editorial skills while also producing a podcast for the first time.
“My time with News21 opened a lot of new doors and introduced me to techniques that will be very beneficial for my career,” said Burden. “I was able to learn from some of the best photographers and editors in the country who not only want you to produce a great piece but also grow as a journalist.”
Burden, who is in her final year at UA and set to graduate in May 2022, credits the C&IS faculty for empowering her throughout her News21 experience and UA career.
“I came to UA as an open book and wanted to create my own path,” said Burden. “My C&IS professors have not only taught me a lot of valuable information but also given me great advice about life.
“From the learning experience to alumni connections to the pride in the University, there really isn’t any other place like The University of Alabama.”
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.