Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Letter to the Editor: UMass alum reflects on his time at the Collegian

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(Erica Lowenkron/Daily Collegian)

Recently, I pushed open the door to Starbucks in downtown Northampton, escaping the afternoon drizzle for a cup of coffee, and found a quiet table in the back. The usual Sunday crowd huddled over computers and sipped coffee, many cramming to meet deadlines for the coming school week. A few people talked quietly, others wore headphones. Jazz drifted through the space above the sound of clinking of cups. As I pulled out my computer and started working on a few school projects (I’m in a Master’s degree program, now), behind me on a windowsill, I noticed a stack of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian newspapers.

This was a pleasant surprise because the Collegian holds a special place in my heart.

While I wasn’t an active contributor all five years of undergraduate studies at UMass, especially not compared to the many editors and writers whose bylines dominate the headlines, I was there long enough to hone my writing chops.

And it was there, primarily in the school paper’s office space in the basement of the Campus Center, I first uncovered an interest in journalism. Previously, having served as a firefighter in the Air Force, I’d been looking into a civilian career in the same field. Up until that point, almost all of my educational efforts had been directed toward that endeavor.

Resulting from that sparked interest in journalism, however, I started investigating journalism as a career.

Now, a few years later, I write for a local newspaper covering Franklin County, The Recorder, after having spent a year previously producing scripts at 22News in Springfield.

I heard about the Collegian for the first time during my junior year, mentioned in passing praise by an English professor. In the months following, I became a photographer, and then a writer. At the time, those were big steps in a new direction.

All of this to say, where I am now is a drastic change from where I was before college. I attribute much of that change to the Collegian’s impact.

Today, many of my Recorder colleagues are Collegian alumni, including Aviva Luttrell, former editor in chief at the paper, Tom Relihan (who just moved on to Brockton’s newspaper, The Enterprise), and Reporter Shelby Ashline. For them as well, the Collegian was a stepping stone to something bigger. And at the same time, it was a positive and unique experience in the journalism field. As a student journalist writing for a student-run paper, there’s a lot of editorial freedom. In the “real world,” post-college, that freedom isn’t there.

As I read through the paper in Starbucks that day, published March 23, 2017, memories flooded back. I remembered conducting my first interview, covering my first lecture and photographing my first protest. I remembered learning about deadlines, standing in a bitter cold winter night gathering thoughts from students holding a vigil and covering joyful riots following a Patriots Superbowl win.

Because I studied English, I don’t have formal training as a reporter. Thus, The Daily Collegian was the training ground for, what I now realize, is my calling.

In today’s uncertain political landscape, I’m proud to hail from a student paper like the Collegian. For those students who might not understand how special the paper is, read it more. And to the current students grinding out stories on deadline: keep the pace. It’s worth the effort.

Andrew Castillo

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