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. 

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