Personal Statement: Four Months at the Helm of the News Desk

Monday, September 11, 2017 - 9:20pm

For four months of my life, I served as boss, editor, reporter, writer and tyrant all at once: This summer I worked as the managing news editor of The Michigan Daily.

It was a position I was surprised to hold for a number of reasons — the first being I didn’t see myself pursuing journalism after school.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy journalism or my time at the Daily. From it, I’ve become a more competent writer, I’ve made friends and I learned more about current events and social issues than had I simply been sitting in a classroom all summer. I absolutely love the organized chaos that composes a newsroom, and having been part of a few different publications in college and high school, I have met some of the most intelligent individuals. Though I have nothing but respect for the field, I still didn’t see myself as a journalist.

I pictured myself, and still do to an extent, as a lawyer or working in academia. Some think I’m crazy for considering a Ph.D. program in sociology, as these can take more than seven years to complete, and if I decide to pursue law school immediately after completing my undergrad, I should be well on my way to studying for the LSAT right now … which I’m not.

My dad is a lawyer who teaches a course in business law, so I’ve always imagined myself, like him, teaching something that interests me. I enjoy school, as much as I complain about the workload, and I see myself continuing in an academic setting. And in my mind, pursuing journalism as a career doesn’t fit that mold — especially a managing editor.  

I never envisioned myself as a boss. I suppose I imagined myself in a sort of background role — no less important, just not at the front. I feel I contribute thoroughly to group assignments. I’m a good listener, and I partake in discussions. I’ve always felt comfortable as an asset to a team I’m not responsible for. I like the idea of proving myself — not in a self-deprecating way, but in an aspirational way — to those above me. It’s a feeling comparable to my interest in academia.

Therefore, I didn’t see myself assuming a managerial role.

I was used to being told what stories to write by higher powers, to attend a protest at which the Graduate Employees’ Organization would be rallying in support of a new contract with the University, to abruptly call state Rep. Adam Zemke to obtain a last-minute quote for an article on the night that it is due, to cover a Central Student Government meeting with 20 minutes’ notice, semi-quiet place on campus — likely in a stairwell somewhere — to conduct a phone interview.

However, planning to stay in Ann Arbor for the summer, I wanted a challenge. I disregarded my concerns because I wanted to try something new — and I cannot deny, I have a soft spot for The Michigan Daily.

Upon embarking on the role, I was quickly humbled, stressed and, frankly, tired.

It was a learning experience to say the least because I was unsure of how exactly I would perform: Would I be aggressive, too easygoing or plainly ineffective?

I feared that I wouldn’t know how to assign stories evenly; I feared I wouldn’t know where to place stories on a page for print publication; I was terrified I would overlook an important event in Ann Arbor or on campus — and what would I do if I couldn’t manage my time well enough?

On my first night in charge, three stories came in, rather late, from three competent, but very new, reporters. I don’t think I’ve ever sent as many text messages as I did on that day to the writers, other news editors, the editor-in-chief, copy editors and photographers. It was a late night.

I wish I could say it was all uphill from there, but it wasn’t. There were many late nights, several instances of confusion over article deadlines (Yes, it’s still 5 p.m.), story angles, communicating with sources and questions about editing.

And there were hundreds — maybe thousands — more text messages.

In my time as managing news editor, I asked as many questions as I answered. I communicated with hundreds of people — reporters, fellow editors, protesters, professors, students, state representatives and even my own father, who kindly explained to me the difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. I sent out hundreds of emails, to the point where I wouldn’t be upset if I never had to write an email again, and I wrote well over 50 articles and contributed to dozens more.

Since the summer staff at The Michigan Daily only meets once a week in the newsroom to create a print paper, a large part of my job was done remotely. As my inbox became flooded with emails I realized my experience would be as much a learning experience as the academia I hoped to continue pursuing.

Journalism is raw and fast-paced, but it is still just as multifaceted as any field of study. It’s like academia in real-time, if that makes sense.

I learned early on that the staffwould not function without group chats — several group chats, in fact — to keep editors and photographers on the same page as stories went through the editing process.

I learned Ann Arbor City Council meetings are a lot easier for me to understand than CSG meetings, and that it’s a bad idea to conduct an interview while walking in the Arb.

I learned the newsroom at the Daily on a hot July night is kept at an icy 55 degrees and so it is important to dress in layers.

And above all, I discovered the collaborative efforts that I merely wished to be a member of were very much alive as I served at the top.

Perhaps, it’s these little things that keep me in the newsroom past 1:00 in the morning debating the minor details of a tuition hike with my editor.