There are many angles I could take in this, my final piece in my cherished Massachusetts Daily Collegian. I could floridly describe how I got here, explaining that I never intended to end up in Amherst, that I was never supposed to be toiling away in our cobwebby Campus Center basement office.
I could narrate the arc of my personal maturation and self-discovery process in lofty, probably overstated terms, elaborating on how developing a congenital disease taught me the fallibility of concrete expectations and shook my faith in the inherency of fate.
I could expand on my disillusionment process at my previous school, the University of Missouri, where I entered as a freshman naively thinking I’d be a present-day Tom Sawyer, rambling down dirt roads along muddy rivers in pick-up trucks while sparring fervently with my long-anticipated journalist brethren about the 2008 presidential election and the implications of the constant encroachment of media further into our lives.
While I’m at it, I could finally even spill the beans to you, dear readers, that I’m not one of you at all, that all this time you’ve been deceived, that I still don’t go to the University of Massachusetts and have been an outsider from Hampshire College in your midst all along.
Or I could take the classic, accessible “inspirational” tact; encouraging my beloved readership to take advantage of their time in college, to mind their p’s and q’s while taking risks, to seize the day and make friends and learn all while having a grand old time.
I’m not going to write any of those stories.
Instead, I’d like to take a moment to illustrate why and how this rag-tag roll of ink and trees we call the Collegian and the potentially insane confederation of folks who madly devote their lives to it are so special and imperative. With any luck, this will reach someone delusional enough to be inspired to come down here and make this a better paper.
And, fortuitously enough, my story takes me right back to Missouri.
It was with both a gasp and a chuckle that I read the news early in April that the student newspaper where I’d been a freshman reporter just three haltingly brisk years ago had been rocked by controversy after an ill-advised April Fools’ edition title landed its staff in hot water and its long-established reputation sullied across the media universe.
The paper, the University of Missouri Maneater, had given its satire edition a name which can be used disparagingly for lesbians and which does not really need to be repeated (use the wonders of Google to find it yourself).
What made the incident both humorous and saddening for me was that I could empathize, and I knew there would be light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for the shamed staff in the Show-Me State. Having served in various editorial capacities here at the Daily Collegian since my freshman year, I have lived through our editorial staff green-lighting several pieces which were in unimaginably poor taste, enraging and alienating our readership and reflecting terribly on the professionalism and standards of my beloved paper.
And yet, out of those careless editorial choices and the fiascos they facilitated, I have grown immensely as a journalist and as a person. The very nature of a student publication like the Collegian lends itself to failures, but they are recoverable. We here are a team of woefully overworked, generally unpaid – or certainly underpaid – full-time students, part-time aspiring writers, editors and designers, who also have scores of other obligations eating at our time and energy.
A great portion of our staff is extremely inexperienced in the journalistic world, frequently unaware of some of the basic conventions of the field, and we are all learning and evolving as we go.
So, while working at the Collegian as an individual who considers himself well-experienced for a budding journalist has at times been extraordinarily stressful, sometimes even bewildering when perusing the next day’s finished product, I would not have had it any other way.
Over the course of my three-plus years in our quaint, idyllic valley, I have probably spent more time under the unrelenting, oppressive fluorescent lights of our shabby Campus Center basement office than I have in my own bed. It’s a toss-up, honestly. I’ve wracked my brain for innumerable hours trying to reword miserably disjointed sentences, become completely incensed at what I’ve seen as lacking motivation on some of my coworkers’ behalf, banged my head on keyboard after keyboard when hackneyed, source-less, editorialized pieces have reached my desk, and it’s all made me a more vigilant copy editor, a more creative writer and a more relaxed person.
I’ve learned that working myself up over disappointing content is frivolous; that getting angry at kids – or professionals – for making mistakes while just trying to do their job is futile, improved at articulating exactly what I’d like to see of colleagues and developed much-improved interpersonal skills, as I’ve honed my skills at giving constructive feedback while emphasizing changes I’d like made and complimenting fellow staffers on their strengths.
At times, my experiences down here have been genuinely maddening. I’ve probably shed more tears over my work and the work of others here than I have over just about any experience in my life, and it’s all prepared me to be a far more composed, dynamic reporter in the “real” world.
It takes a certain, possibly masochistic demeanor to want to work in a dusty basement office, frantically attempting to rework oft-jumbled copy while searching for usable images and losing sleep, study and leisure time in favor of polishing a product that, in reality, few in the outside world will care all that much about (unless one makes a mistake like the aforementioned Maneater gaffe).
But, for those with such a seemingly illogical drive, this basement and its sporadically functional computers, its quirky denizens and its stacks of archived Collegians is and always will be home.
When I look back on the time I’ve spent here in Amherst, I would not, indeed could not, have had it any other way. And when, over the course of time, I think back to my days here, I’ll remember that the Collegian really was a springboard for quite a few genuinely cool opportunities.
Not to toot my own horn (toot-toot), but when I reflect, I’ll remember this paper gave me the chance, before I was of legal drinking age, to cover a gubernatorial election, a special senate election, to scoop national news sources on the search for a new UMass system president, to be plagiarized by professional reporters when covering the case of a student who threatened a Florida representative, to investigate why the flagship university in a state as educationally rich as Massachusetts is so awful at fund raising, and even to pen a few pieces of humor of my own, my personal favorites being “Hampshire College to switch to cannabis-based currency system” and “9 in 10 UMass students agree: Wooo!”
And I’ve made some lasting friends and what I hope will be professional connections, to boot. I could not have gotten through these years without the unyielding support of my classmates Alyssa Creamer and Chris Shores and several of their predecessors, especially Will McGuinness, Matt Rocheleau and Nick Bush.
So it is with mixed emotions that I bid this newsroom and its dusty stacks of archives, unnerving mechanical whirs, seemingly self-generating half-eaten bags of Doritos and always affable custodial staff adieu, though I know I’ll always have a home in mangy offices like this one. I can only hope there are more weirdoes like me to come.
Sam Butterfield was General Editor at the Daily Collegian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.