Saturday, April 13, 2013

My Last Days as Editor: I'm Done

I've had my last production day. I've had my last day at the office. Tonight, I'll attend my last Reflector banquet. And then, in several weeks, I'll graduate and leave Mississippi State. And several months later, I'll leave Mississippi for the foreseeable future.

I will say this: I believe the 2012-2013's staff put out a very good last edition together. And I'm sure the staff will produce three final issues before we wrap up the school year. And it's weird to think I won't be in that newsroom spending time with them, editing with a stolen pen, and complaining about a lack of graphic elements on a page.

And, although our friendships won't end with a goodbye to the newspaper or a goodbye as we move away, I'll miss seeing the staff every day. Because they are some of my very best friends. They're some of the kindest, most intelligent, empathetic, and generally cool people I've ever met. And they're all pretty talented and hard working too.

The main reason I don't want to grow up: this year.
I have every confidence the new editorial board will be great. And maybe they won't mind if I come back to visit on occasion. But it's not my paper anymore. And all I have left now are the memories (and all of the copies of the newspaper I have saved over the years).

Moving on is hard, but life requires you to move forward. It requires you to be brave and hardworking and strong. I never imagined I would be the editor in chief of my university newspaper. I never thought I would cover half the stories I did. I never thought I would find the family I did when I joined the newspaper staff. But I did.

So thank you to the 2012-2013 editorial board, thank you to the entire staff, thank you to all of the former editors who have supported me — even if you only knew me because I was in a position you held five years before.

Especially thank you to Kyle Wrather, the 2010 editor in chief. He has always been there to when I've needed advice. He has helped me by providing story, design, and photo ideas. When I served as entertainment editor under him, he made me better. And he made me want to make others better.

Thank you to Aubra Whitten, the 2009-2010 managing editor. When I was a freshman, I wanted to grow up to be just like her. She and Kyle both supported the staff through a hard time, and I still remember how she handled the situation. She was the first person to really believe in me as a journalist, and I'll always remember and appreciate that.

April Windham, the 2010-2011 editor in chief, encouraged me to apply for her job. She believed in me and supported my ideas. She also is one of my best friends, and she has listened to me not only rant or freak out about the occasional newspaper problem but has listened to me no matter what the subject. 

Bob Carskadon may have left his position as sports editor in 2011, but we still remember him. Bob did something more important than write great stories (although he did that too) — he educated young writers and inspired them. Two of my editors started writing for him. When I point to sports stories we should aspire to be like, I point to Bob's blog.

And I would like to thank Mary Chase Breedlove, Dr. Carskadon, Dr. McCarley, and Stacey Mann. I was afraid to apply to write for The Reflector, but they encouraged me at various points throughout my first semester. 

I would also like to thank the past and present publication boards. Whit Waide, who served as the chair my first year as editor, was very passionate about the newspaper and Mississippi State. He encouraged me, and I appreciated his advice. Dr. Strout, our current chair, has been a great asset and also teaches a great law class. And Scott Boyd, Harriet Laird, the Student Association members, representatives from The Reveille, and our other members have been helpful and encouraging.

Maridith Geuder, who served as head of university relations until this fall, was a constant source of help to me. She handled crisis situations with aplomb and always had time for me — even when I was just visiting.

The Student Association members whom I've worked with, most notably Shelby Balius, Rhett Hobart, Thomas Sellers, and Morgan McDowell, have been helpful to the newspaper in our collective effort to serve the students.

I would also like to thank Dr. Anderson, Dr. Marsh, Dr. Creevy, Dr. Claggett, and Dr. Snyder — without your English and humanities class, I would have never gotten into grad school and because of them, I have learned to think more critically. English has made me a better journalist.

And to the entire English and Communication Departments: Thank you. And to the Shackouls Honors College: Thank you for giving me so many good writers.

Thank you to Mississippi State's faculty, administration, and staff.  And thank you to the MSU and Starkville police departments. I appreciate your service and your willingness to work with The Reflector.

And thank you to my friends and family who either encouraged me or helped me. You're the best.

Thank you to everyone who has helped me and The Reflector this year and in previous years. You made the newspaper worth reading.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My Last Days as Editor: I'm Sitting At My Desk ...

I'm almost out of time.

That's not to say that my life will end at 22, as I walk out the door of The Reflector office on Friday after I turn in my keys. Or after I give my speech (that I still haven't written yet) at the banquet Saturday.

But, when I first took over editor in chief in 2011, I felt like I had so much time to do so many things and conquer the journalism world. And I've accomplished a lot of goals and faced down more lawsuit threats than any one person should. 

I covered the first on campus shooting in Mississippi State's history. I followed the story of a kidnapping hoax on my 21st birthday. I wrote about Greek stereotypes and student apathy toward the Student Association. I wrote a feature article on the beloved Starkville business, Strangebrew, and had great fun doing it. I even sat in the press box at Davis Wade. And those are only a few of my memories writing for The Reflector.

 Last year, I helped defend our right and decision to publish a sex column. (I cannot tell you how many tweets/emails/horrified phone calls I got from this.) I also discovered that some people will be more offended by a typo in the sports section than said sex column. 

I debated ethical concerns over articles using anonymous sources with our adviser and staff members. 

I survived planning one banquet last year, and hopefully I'll survive planning this one as well.

Somehow, as a freshman, I was hired to be entertainment editor. I wrote and planned stories and learned how much I hated reading fashion columns without legitimate sources. And I got to write a sports story (technically, it was a face-off about what was more important: the actual Super Bowl game or the half-time show and commercials). But, eventually, I wrote legitimate sports stories.

I even learned how to understand a football game. 

I've traveled to Louisville, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Martin, Tenn. 

And admist all of the work and stress and fun, I've made friends. Some of my best friends have come from the four staffs on which I've served, especially the 2012-2013 editorial board. We've made memories together, and they've supported me throughout good times and bad. 

But now, I only have three normal work days left with them. And soon, we'll be saying goodbye and life will change. I'm happy it happened, it's time to move on, and the end of the newspaper is not the end of my friendships. And, these people are some of the most important people in my life.

They've taught me how to be a better person, how to be a better teacher, how to be a better writer, how to be a better editor, and so much more. 

I'm finishing my last new article now. (At least, the last one I'm obligated to write.) And I'm sitting at my desk on last Wednesday. And tonight I'll run my last meeting.

But just as it's ending for me, it's beginning for so many new editors and writers. Someone else will come in and experience the joy I have had and will write stories worth telling about. Because The Reflector is a special place full of opportunity and wonder where anyone with potential can develop. And it'll be better than when I left it. And I'll be proud to have been part of something so wonderful. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

My Last Days as Editor: Part Two

For the past three years, I've experienced three official Reflector staff transitions. As part of training for the next year, the new editor-in-chief hires his or her new staff at the end of March, and the current staff trains its successors for a few papers. Traditionally, the staff for the next year takes over the last three or four papers of the spring semester.

On these occasions about twenty people cram into our small office as staffs attempt to pass on knowledge, ask the right questions, and feverishly work to master InDesign and editing before the members of the old staff leave forever.

And, at times when tensions run high and it appears as if the next issue of the newspaper may not happen, I sometimes think I understand what Jean-Paul Sartre meant when he said hell is other people. Then, about five minutes later, the server returns or rainbow wheel of death stops spinning and we go back to having fun.

I've trained other people to do my previous jobs before as a section editor, but I knew I was always returning. If I forgot to tell the news desk about when Student Association Senate meetings were, it wasn't a big deal because I was there. If someone had an ethics question about anonymous sourcing, I could share my knowledge. And if sports writers tried to use worst cliche in the book (heartbreaking), I could mark it out with red ink. 

But this time, I only have four issues left to teach the new editors (and maybe the old editors) all they need to know to make this transition as easy as possible for them. The two transition production days have past; I have two more. Two more chances to make sure I did all I could for The Reflector.

I have learned more from being an editor than I would have thought possible. Practicalities from "If someone threatens legal action against you, stop the conversation" to life lessons about leadership and time management. Most importantly, however, I've learned that writing popular articles, winning awards, and having dynamic photos mean nothing if you've failed to educate those helping you produce the content.

Inherently, The Reflector acts as an educational tool for young journalists/photographers/editors (and, although not many people remember, advertising representatives). We hold ourselves to the same standards an ethical, professional newspaper would. When breaking news happens, we're expected to be there. When important events effect the university and Starkville communities, we need to cover them. And when the Student Association's senate meets, we should be the first students to attend and write a story. We're the watchdogs of our community, we're the information source (and the in class distraction for those who love the crossword puzzle).

As the leader of this newspaper, I've been given a great opportunity to gain experiences I never thought I would have. But, next Thursday night, I'll finish my final production day and walk out of my office's doors after sending one last paper. And The Reflector won't be under my control anymore, and I'll have to let go and hope I taught someone something worth knowing.

Here's the lesson all leaders in student journalism should learn: News changes rapidly. Your bylines will fade away, no matter how cool your stories are. (And if seeing your name in the paper is why you're doing this, you should get out now.) But if the education you give to others, if it's good, won't go away. Write something that matters and do it for the pure love of the greater good through the distribution of information. But, more importantly, encourage your staff to write something that matters and give them the tools to do it.

And I know this because I had great senior editors my freshman year who helped shape me into a better writer, editor, and journalist (yes, those are all different things). So thank you to the 2010 Reflector staff. You taught me to be better and do better and inspired me to try the hardest I can to make things better. And I hope I succeeded. The former editors of The Reflector are not only my friends but my heroes. They've inspired me to achieve excellence in all I do.

And I hope I've made them proud, and I hope I've done even a sixth as good of a job as they did. And I hope the editors that come after me take everything I did wrong (and there's plenty of that) and learn from it and improve the newspaper far beyond what we can currently imagine. Because what we do — informing people, telling the truth, giving a voice to the voiceless — is something worth believing in and sacrificing for.