To the paper that made college worthwhile

Cheers to the best three years of my undergraduate career

Photo+courtesy+of+McKenna+Premus

Photo courtesy of McKenna Premus

By McKenna Premus, Managing Editor

The girl who walked into the old Massachusetts Daily Collegian office nearly five years ago is a much different girl than the one who is leaving this May.

I remember it as if it was just yesterday. I was on a tour of the University of Massachusetts campus as a senior in high school, desperately trying to envision myself fitting in at UMass, or at any college for that matter. Back in those days, campus tours included a stop at the old Collegian office in the basement of the Campus Center.

I remember walking into the dimly lit office that had newspapers scattered throughout a maze of random chairs and old couches, with what I’m pretty sure was either asbestos or mold on the ceiling (probably a mix of both). But what immediately caught my attention was the exciting, chaotic energy that filled the room; students helping each other design the layout for the next print issue on the archaic monitors, the clacking sounds of frantic typing on keyboards and sounds of laughter and conversation filling every corner of the office.

I was hesitant committing to UMass as a journalism major, as I had never written for a newspaper before, but I took my visit to the Collegian that day as a good sign.

Surprisingly enough, however, I wouldn’t return to that office until the fall of my sophomore year.

Surely unlike every other 20-year-old college student, I was feeling a bit lost. I had spent the majority of my freshman year battling severe anxiety and depression, spending most Friday nights in my dorm room FaceTiming my friends from home, constantly on the verge of transferring out of UMass or dropping out of college entirely.

After a… we’ll go with “subpar,” freshman year, I wasn’t too sure what my sophomore year would bring, but little did I know it would change the rest of my collegiate career.

I sat down next to Ana Pietrewicz on the first day of my media criticism class in the fall of 2019. After class, Ana turned to me and said, “The Collegian is having an open house tonight, you should come.”

I smiled and told her I’d think about it, knowing full well I had no intention of going whatsoever, to which Ana responded with: “No, you’re coming. See you at 7!”

Words cannot describe how nervous I felt taking the escalator down to the basement of the Campus Center that night. My legs felt heavy as I walked to the same office I had visited two years prior. Just as I was about to turn around and bail, someone noticed me and immediately welcomed me in, asking what my interests were, which section I’d like to write for, among other questions I didn’t hear as I was distracted by that same exciting, chaotic energy.

Before I knew it, after a month of writing and rewriting and re-rewriting my first column, I made my grand debut in the Op/Ed section. With each piece I wrote over the next three years, not only did my byline gradually change as I worked my way up the ranks from op/ed contributor to columnist, news correspondent, assistant social media editor and finally managing editor, but my confidence in my writing, my work ethic and myself did as well.

As I’ve heard from alumni and have personally witnessed in seeing my colleagues grow over the past couple of years, the Collegian serves its staff in a number of ways: an extracurricular, a launching pad into a professional journalism career or graduate school, a resume builder; but also a second home, a reason to show up, a family. As sappy as this might sound, I genuinely believe the Collegian has been as all of those things for me.

Yes, I am now a proud AP Style nerd through and through (my brother roasts the hell out of me for keeping an AP Style book on the dashboard of my car), I can write a news briefing in record time and I am arguably a little hyper-aware of bias and conflicts of interest. But with that being said, the Collegian has helped me in ways far beyond developing technical writing and professional skills.

When I hit rock bottom during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, battling the worst case of depression I had ever had, I somehow still found myself on my laptop in the middle of the night reporting on how the Resident Assistant/Peer Mentor Union was demanding safer working conditions from University administration ahead of the fall 2020 semester. Even when I didn’t know how to help myself, I knew in the meantime I could at least help others with my reporting, and the Collegian gave me the space and opportunity to do just that.

When UMass students protested in front of the Theta Chi fraternity house for weeks on end last September following accusations of sexual assault, I realized just how impactful mine, Ana and Sophia Gardner’s coverage at the Collegian really was. National media outlets picked up our reporting and survivors of sexual assault began reaching out to us, inspired by one another to share their stories and bring awareness to the problematic handling of sexual assault cases at colleges nationwide.

When Frederick Hanna, Joey Aliberti and Pedro Gray Soares invited me to join them and help cover the Massachusetts men’s basketball team in the Atlantic 10 Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament at Washington, D.C., I was nervous to say the least. But with their encouragement, I decided to give sports photography a shot. Not only did that road trip allow me to try my hand at sports photojournalism (NBA photographer is now on my list of dream careers), but it will always be one of my favorite Collegian memories.

Most importantly, I’ve come to understand the real impact behind my work and that of my fellow student journalists. I’ve come to learn that while most of the time journalism is fun and crazy and full of unexpected learning opportunities, there are always going to be tough days where you feel exhausted and wonder if what you’re doing is worth it.

And if there is one bit of advice I can impart to my underclassmen peers, it would be this: it is.

Take the story, call the source, pitch the idea, keep writing. With every piece you become a better journalist, and as someone who has only become a better writer and photographer by constantly seizing new opportunities and taking risks, I can tell you it’s true.

Student journalism is incredibly valuable — every single interview, photo, article, video, podcast, tweet, etc. tells someone’s story, and I find it inspiring that student journalists dedicate their time and talents to telling those stories. The world needs truthful, accountable, responsible and ethical journalism – now more than ever – and as student journalists, we play a huge role in that.

It’s taken me three years to learn all that, and I have the Collegian, its exciting, chaotic energy and its wonderful staff to thank for teaching me and helping shape me into the person I am today.

The confident young woman who’s leaving the Collegian as managing editor is certainly not the same girl who barely made it to that open house years ago, but it makes me smile to look back and think about how much I’ve grown since that night. I will always have my Collegian family to thank for changing my life for the better.

McKenna Premus was the Managing Editor and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @mckenna_premus.