Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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Finding meaning in the newsroom

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Stuart Foster

Stuart Foster

Stuart Foster

By Stuart Foster, Collegian Staff

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Over my past four years at the University of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Daily Collegian has easily been the most consistently important part of my life. I became involved in October of my freshman year and quickly began writing weekly. At the end of that year, I became an assistant news editor, and that was when the Collegian became a much larger part of my social life.

After one semester as assistant news editor, I was able to become the paper’s head news editor. At first, I loved the responsibility I had. My increased writing and editing gave me so much more confidence about my ability as a journalist. I felt like I was already living what my classes at UMass were teaching me. But the most incredible thing about that semester was the group of assistant editors I had. Most of them had shared the same position as me the semester before, and I had close friendships with all of them. They were my equals in the newsroom and a key part of why the Collegian became so meaningful to my time at UMass. I’ve heard the position of news editor described as the hardest job in the Collegian, but I didn’t feel that at all in my first semester as one.

However, I definitely felt the intensity in my second semester. As my classes became harder, I had trouble balancing my responsibilities, organizing the section alongside my desire to research long-form stories in depth. And with an entirely new editorial staff in my section, my problems with leadership became more apparent. I wasn’t as good a teacher as I was a writer, and I felt increasingly uncomfortable in a position of authority for my section. I decided that the next semester, I would step down as news editor, giving another writer the opportunity in the position and myself a reprieve.

One of the stories I wrote that semester was coverage of a farmer’s market on campus, held by the Native American Student Association (NASA) and UMass Divest to raise money for people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was the first time I had covered an event of NASA’s on campus, and also the first time I met their president at the time, Andreus Ridley. Toward the end of the event, Ridley said something that immediately distracted me from the event I was covering and made me think about the upcoming semester.

“Sometimes I worry,” he said about the presence of Native Americans at UMass. “Enrollment has declined for 17 consecutive years here. The numbers I see say there’s 27 of us out of 22,000 [enrolled students].”

I decided that instead of covering a wide variety of stories, as I had in the past, the next semester I would focus on solely Native American issues on campus. My larger focus would be on a long-form story on the gradually declining Native American enrollment at UMass. I was shocked to hear the number of total enrollment was as small as 27 students. I also recognized the Collegian had not covered issues like this adequately in the past and felt that as a paper we had a responsibility to do so. I began going to NASA’s weekly meetings in the Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center. Symbolically they were on Monday nights — the same nights as the Collegian’s weekly news meetings. While I had previously attended them religiously, I stopped in order to keep up with NASA.

The article I wrote at the end of that semester is by far the most crucial piece I wrote for this paper. That story is also one that I would never have been able to write if I had tried to balance it with an editorial position. The amount of reporting and writing I had to do for it was simply more than I would have been able to handle as an editor. Because of my work on the story, I also began appearing less regularly in the newsroom. I missed (and still miss) how close I used to be with all of the editors in the Collegian. But ultimately, I am proud of my decision.

I want to end this reflection on my experience with a message to the news writers still at the Collegian, or for ones who are thinking of joining but have not decided. I want to emphasize that you don’t need to become an editor to create an impact at this newspaper. One thing I recommend to every writer in the news section is to find a beat. In reporting on something regularly, you’ll gain a heightened understanding of it that will drastically improve your writing on that subject.

Thank you, Daily Collegian for my last four years at UMass. And also, for the next many I will depend on my experiences here for.

Stuart Foster can be reached at [email protected]or followed on Twitter @Stuart_C_Foster.

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