Seek a beat

Finding meaning in the newsroom


Stuart Foster

By Stuart Foster, Collegian Staff

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.