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December 11, 2017

Finding my place

(Courtesy of Aviva Luttrell)

(Courtesy of Aviva Luttrell)

When I was a little kid riding in the back of my father’s car, there was always a third presence with us: a portable police scanner crackling static, electronic bleeps and the occasional emergency. My father was a news reporter and met my mother while they were both working at the same newspaper in Waltham.

I grew up hearing stories about my parents’ careers as journalists – the car accidents, fires, murders and all. I can count on both hands the number of times I’ve heard them reminisce about their first double byline covering a Valentine’s Day stabbing. How romantic.

People in the business like to tell me I was “doomed” from the start. But being a reporter never crossed my mind until sophomore year of college when a friend convinced me to take an introductory journalism class with him.

And I fell in love with it.

I’d never considered myself anything more than mediocre at the hobbies I’d taken up throughout high school – cheerleading, gymnastics, various musical instruments. I was shy and self-conscious. I hated nothing more than being called on in class and felt like I never quite fit in. And this continued into college.

And then one evening in September of my sophomore year, I walked into The Massachusetts Daily Collegian office in the Campus Center basement. It looks like every other newsroom I’ve been in – dusty and messy with stacks of newspapers everywhere.

But soon enough, it became a second home to me. I was hired as an assistant news editor my junior year and rose to the position of news editor as a senior. And as they say, you find your people where you find your place. I’ve made some of my best friends here and for the first time felt like I found somewhere I belong.

The Collegian has taught me so much about not only the technicalities of journalism, but about life in general, who I am as a person and how I fit into the world.

I’ve learned not to worry so much about what people think of me. I’ve learned to take risks. And I’ve seen over and over again how hard work pays off. I can’t even count how many gallons of black coffee I’ve drunk or how many times I’ve broken down crying at 3 a.m. after a long night on desk. This job has been far from easy, but I wouldn’t trade the experience I’ve had for the world.

I spent hours with a student who performs as a drag queen and documented with audio, photos and words how his hobby helped him finally become comfortable in his own skin. I woke up at 4 a.m. to watch student farmers pick vegetables before sunrise. I spent several afternoons with a recovering heroin addict for a story, that for reasons of privacy, I was never able to publish.

Gaining this type of intimate access into peoples’ lives is probably my favorite part of the job. Journalism not only allows me to meet all sorts of fascinating people, but to have the privilege to tell their stories.

It’s also made me take risks and push myself far outside of my own comfort zone. I’ve talked my way onto the kill floor of a slaughterhouse for a photojournalism assignment. I covered the emotionally taxing trial of a man who was convicted of gang-raping a freshman in her dorm room. I’ve covered many student deaths.

None of these stories were easy and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I’ve learned anything from the Collegian, it’s that you learn a lot about yourself when you’re forced to deal with adversity. Life as a journalist is chock full of it, both when reporting stories and watching others around you.

So give me the coffee. Give me the police scanners, the long rides in the car, the emotional peaks and valleys that come with the job. You’re never truly ready for what this job throws at you, but I couldn’t think of a better way to learn than at the Collegian.

I couldn’t think of a better place to be.

Aviva Luttrell was the news editor and a night editor. She can be reached at aluttrel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @AvivaLuttrell.

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