Column: Paper's lessons apply to all

A few days ago, someone asked me what it feels like to be in my last week at The Daily Gamecock. Truth is, I don’t know. I probably won’t until well after this column goes to print.

In literal terms, I’ve been on staff three years. But thinking back, the newspaper and the university have packed in so much that it feels much longer. By now, I’m probably overdue for a mid-life crisis.

That time has taught me a lot, most of it the sort of thing that you won’t learn in class; no professor could teach the trial-by-fire way The Gamecock does and keep a job. There’s chaos, there’s a group of people figuring out how to handle it and, by some miracle, there’s a newspaper every day.
Those lessons have taught me a great deal about how to report and edit, but they’ve also guided my life outside the newsroom, too — whatever of it there is left.

The improbable thing will happen, probably at the worst time. The Daily Gamecock deserves its own corollary to Murphy’s law: A writer will tell you at 10:30 p.m. that he didn’t write an article you were banking on. You’ll give up on rationalizing with InDesign and just pray the damn pages export. There will be two crippling snowstorms in the four months you’re in charge of running a newspaper. But the paper still has to send, and you’ll figure it out. You just might end up leaving the Russell House at 7 a.m.

People will notice the thing you gave no thought to. Perhaps that’s a tweet about President Harris Pastides storming the court. Or maybe it’s a crossword puzzle that somehow didn’t print right. A great, old-school editor at The Post and Courier once told me to “write every article like it’s going 1A,” landing a spot on the front page. He was right; no one ever regretted taking the time to do something well.

You should probably just say yes. Yes to the editor who needed someone to go on a flight with a stunt pilot, even though you’re terrified of heights. And yes to the other one, who wanted to grab Beezer’s and a drink even though you have class in the morning. You’ll remember that 4 a.m. Stella Artois a lot better than Boolean logic or calculus.

It’s better to be fair than flashy. The best praise a reporter can get is that an article was fair, and there’s not a lot worse than hearing that a source appreciated a story or that it helped a cause; that often means there was another perspective that wasn’t represented. Trying to appease everyone rarely works, and throwing punches for no reason doesn’t do much good. But being up-front and equitable will earn respect.

Have a good reason. The best journalists — and people — I know aren’t motivated by their résumés, their paychecks or their influence; they’re motivated by an urge to make their communities better. Whatever it is you do, do it with that in mind.

Journalists can catch a lot of flack from sources and readers: for being too negative, or too favorable; for going too far, or not far enough.

But I don’t think any of them could fault the motivation that drives the industry — and The Daily Gamecock: that readers and communities are better off when they’re well informed, whether that’s about what USC is doing and what it means, or it’s about what’s happening in the city’s art community and the athletic department.

That’s what I admire about journalism. And after three often-stressful, sometimes-bizarre and always-fulfilling years, that’s what I admire about the staff of The Daily Gamecock, too.


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