December 7, 2015

Final words from the Editor-in-Chief of the Stater: How my journey as a journalist gave me a voice

As the end of the fall term and my role as editor-in-chief for The Cleveland Stater nears, I've taken some time to think about my journey as a journalism student and member of The Stater staff.


These reflections lead me to an interesting parallel between my personal growth and the role of a campus newspaper.


Having come from a reporting background based heavily in blogging and entertainment journalism, many of the skills required of a campus reporter were, in their own ways, foreign to me.


From constructing an article’s opening statement, known formally as a lede, to writing consistently within AP style guidelines, things many professional reporters find as easy as breathing were a constant challenge for me.


What you are taught in a classroom will never fully prepare you for the practical and tangible work you do as a field reporter.


Your pre-interview nerves can take hold while speaking to strangers, and you may forget the most pertinent question regardless of how many times you’ve practiced asking it. Then, there’s the time you had to transcribe that interview for class, which you realize was pure luxury as the line thins between meeting your last minute deadline and having a nervous fit.


No course, book or professor readied me for the constant need to be two steps ahead, to regularly wear an unnatural amount of tenacity. And so, my initial term on The Cleveland Stater was very much like a newborn deer learning to walk: apprehensive, but committed.


My story pitches weren’t entirely original, and more often than not my word counts reflected an inexperience with how to use only the most essential content to shape a story. Still, I learned how a newsroom operates and performed what was required of me.


By the end of my first semester on The Stater, I grew quite a bit in terms of my own reporting skills. I could finally pump out that hard news lede in under 15 minutes and speak comfortably with my sources. Unfortunately, I had yet to find the answer to the one question every budding reporter asks: What is my voice?


That might sound trivial, but having a writing style — a tone, sentence structure, and vocabulary — that is unique to you is how most journalists make their living. Yes, you need know the stylebook like the Bible and successfully execute the news pyramid regardless of a publication’s size or audience.
But the way you carry readers through your story determines what they take away from what you’ve reported.


This belief has been reinforced by the hours upon hours I’ve spent following and reading my favorite journalists. When deciding what stories to dedicate my attention to, I chose based on what their specific voice they lent to the story.


The problem is, what is worth publishing and how it might be delivered at one publication versus another can come in conflict. Ultimately, this is a result of their differing roles within a community.


So, this term I set out to do what I had yet to: find a voice for every platform, for every piece. Oddly, being this term’s Editor-In-Chief — responsible not just for myself, but for my fellow writers and the entire paper — was what helped me find it.


And what did I find? That our voices are a combination of where our interests lie, our passion to share particular truths and our willingness to listen to the other side. Our voice is only as strong as our commitment to the fundamentals of the craft and to the values that craft upholds.


Most importantly, our voice is not just our own. It is a combined effort, influenced by fellow writers, publications. It’s the desire to ask questions, then follow stories that challenge what we know.


In that way our voice becomes our role and our duty as student reporters. It is a tool for giving the university, as much as ourselves, a diverse, dependable and authentic representation.


In the words of playwright Arthur Miller, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”


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