Where the story ends

I don’t expect an update on this one


By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

When the University of Massachusetts suspended in-person class in response to COVID-19, it didn’t occur to me that the decision would have any impact on me. How could I think about myself when there was an article to be written?

As soon as UMass confirmed the announcement, I leapt up from the table in the Collegian office, raced upstairs and found a group of students tearfully discussing the news. I took my notepad out of my back pocket, introduced myself and started asking questions. Once the article was published, I started my next one. What was Hampshire College doing? How would this impact the local economy? What would happen to student clubs? Hours later, I locked up the office with the rest of the news team, not knowing it would be for the last time. It wasn’t until I was home that I thought: “Oh no, I’m a UMass student.” The article had been about me, too.

A good reporter does their best to avoid bias. As an assistant news editor, that’s been my goal. I don’t interview my friends, I don’t get interviewed by other Collegian reporters and I don’t use “I” in my articles. I dislike writing about myself so much that I write for the only section where I’m not allowed to do it. But the joke was on me, because now I have to write about myself anyways. With this senior column, I’m stuck on the other side of the interview.

I don’t have a shortage of incredible experiences to write about. In one (hyphenated) word, the past three years at the Collegian have been all-consuming. I had a habit of writing a quick brief and having it turn into ten articles over several weeks or months of work. The people around me would always know my current story, whether it was a student government impeachment or the purchase of a new campus. I’m almost certain an old classmate still has me saved in her phone as “Kathrine Porta” because of the ill-fated Amherst restaurant I talked about nonstop that semester. I went to early morning press briefings at the Amherst Police Department, sat for 12 hours in a judicial hearing, wrote over 1,000 words on salt brine, shivered at post-Super Bowl celebrations and wrote about all of the Amherst Town Council candidates. The Collegian has been my passion at UMass, and I hope I’ve done it well.

None of these stories were truly mine. My work only exists because other people were willing to share their stories with me. If I interviewed you, I want you to know that I’m fully aware that you could have said no when I wrote an email, made a phone call, showed up to your office or simply sat down at your table in a dining commons. None of you were required to give me a place in your lives for the length of a conversation. But I’m so grateful you did. I’ve met people who are so devoted to their communities and to this campus that I felt it would be a disservice not to give them a voice.

Since coming home, finding people to talk to has become more difficult. These are strange and complicated times, and it’s harder than ever before to remove myself from the story. On the phone with another senior who was upset about experiencing the “lasts” of everything without knowing it, I ended up talking for an hour after the interview, seeking the same connection I would have felt on campus. Logging off of a Zoom interview is a greater challenge than leaving someone’s office. I want to be the last one to write an email in every exchange. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m so far away from UMass, reporting from my bedroom or because I’m a senior, but I’m struggling to let go of something that means so much to me.

I will miss writing your stories, UMass. But I know the Collegian staff will continue to be devoted to the incredible work of reporting. The hardest part about graduating a year early is knowing that I won’t be here to write alongside them.

Thank you to the Collegian. To my news editors, Jackson Cote and Abigail Charpentier, who trusted me with keeping our community informed and showed me how to do it. To my fellow assistant news editors who encouraged me to never leave a story behind: Alvin Buyinza, Mike Connors, Irina Costache, Gretchen Keller, Will Mallas, Cassie McGrath, Chris McLaughlin and Sophie Gardner. To the entire staff of the Daily Collegian, from our editor-in-chief to the writer who just walked in the door. You have all been there for me with brilliant advice, friendship and support.

The Collegian is a special place and I hope I return someday, although soon I will no longer be a UMass student. This story won’t get an update or turn into an in-depth investigation, and that’s okay. But every time I hear a new story, I’m sure my first thought will still be how great it would feel to write it down.

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @KathrineEsten.