And you thought we were just a goofy free-speech publication
by David Kennedy
I came to the paper on accident. I think it was the second semester of my sophomore year, and the guy who had agreed to be my roommate was already an editor. For some reason he thought I should be involved, so he badgered me about it until I finally agreed to go to the print shop one production weekend. The group was immediately welcoming, and they quickly put me to work as a regular copy-editor. Weekly meetings and production week-ends went into my routine, and the other editors were soon enough my friends. I was part of the group even though I rarely volunteered to actually write anything. Within a year the official ‘copy-editor’ position opened up, and I got picked to fill it.
I’m still not particularly proud of very much that I wrote for the paper. Although I think some of my articles were decent (particularly the later ones), I’m still more proud of the work other people did that I edited or contributed to. One of the biggest things I learned working on the paper was how to collaborate on a creative project. I quickly found out that if I was in the print shop and I made a joke that was funny enough in a voice that was loud enough, there was a chance it would end up in print. Aside from fixing spelling errors, and deleting unnecessary commas, most of my contributions to the paper involved additions and suggestions regarding other people’s photoshops. I would say things like “that picture for News would be funnier with prison bars on it,” or “put a picture of a goat-legged Satan saying ‘go Rams’ there” and it would go in the paper.
I also got to watch writers have their first experiences writing for a publication, and the massive learning-curve that came with it. For plenty of contributors this was their first time writing something that anybody other than a teacher would read. As such, there was a lot of initial stumbling. It seemed that the beginning of every fall semester brought with it an influx of barely legible articles from brand-new freshmen, and my job as copy-editor was to cut them up and paste them back together until they were decent. I’m not exempt from the learning-curve by the way, my first couple of articles were incredibly messy looking back. This taught me (at least I hope it did) to have some sensitivity for a writer’s voice and intent, which needed to be preserved even while I was making dramatic changes to the piece itself just for clarity’s sake. Then I’d get to watch these writers (the ones who came back) improve until they hardly needed my help. It was a good sign when I didn’t have very much to do anymore.
I’m sort of just going over the educational value of the paper here, and that’s because I think it’s an underrated publication. I get the sense that there is a perception among professors that the paper is ‘not as serious’ as other student publications. Whereas I think they all fulfil the same function: giving undergrads a place to practice writing. It may not be the most official-looking student newspaper, but things like the paper exist so that students can experiment with tone and try writing things they like for the first time rather than things they’ve been assigned. Whatever seriousness there is about a student paper only comes from the work and care students put into them. We took the paper seriously in that we wanted to publish something we liked, and that we could be proud of. Sometimes it’s good to take your jokes seriously.