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The power of the written word

By the time I finally get a connection to post this you’ll see I’ve added a few writing samples from my days as Editor-in-Chief of The Babbler, my university’s weekly newspaper. My move to New York in August accompanied my hard drive crashing…hard. None of my 4000 pictures from Europe could be restored, the expensive recovery software I purchased wiped my external drive clean, and The Babbler began a transition to web that left the PDFs I’d lost inaccessible. On the bright side I lost so much money in the process of trying to save my memories that I finally agreed to let my friend Jason walk me through replacing the drive myself over the phone. Even from Kansas my computer hero saved me $300, and now I can (and do) say I installed my new drive by hand every time computers come up. It was my claim to fame until my knees were published in Good Housekeeping’s March issue. Now (as exemplified here) I have something else to bring up whenever I need recognition.

As graduation approached I became increasingly more desperate for these PDFs knowing I’d eventually conquer creating a website and wanting an online supplement to my formal portfolio. (I’m pretty high-tech, I installed my own hard drive…) So in my three visits to Nashville I always brought a flash drive to Lipscomb’s campus and went by the old office in hopes of grabbing the PDFs myself. When no one was there, because I always arrived on a Friday, I’d go by my advisor’s office in hopes of catching up and getting his help. In three visits I never caught him or his secretary, the only two faculty members I truly wanted to visit, and couldn’t dodge the 20 people who’d inevitably say, “I haven’t seen you in a while,” or “Do you not go here anymore?” These visits only made me resent the new editor for somehow getting time off for the weekend and avoid people in Nashville altogether for their common oblivion regarding my move.

When I’d peek in that office I’d forcefully subdue my nostalgia. I try not to let feelings sidetrack my determination, but yesterday when those six measly articles arrived in my email I couldn’t help but remember. From the moment I realized I was being interviewed for Editor-in-Chief and not Sports Editor as I had thought, to the moments it took everything in me to not give up and walk away, that year-long term became my most valuable learning experience in all of my formal education. It transformed my writing and ideals and molded me into the journalist I am today. I have undoubtedly grown and learned and experienced much since then, but words can’t describe what those countless hours produced in me.

My first night on the job I literally didn’t know where to start. I had never worked for the paper, and in high school I loyally remained on the yearbook side of a timeless rivalry with The Eagle Eye. The previous year’s editor met me in the storage closet that would serve as our temporary office to show me the ropes, and we couldn’t have been more perfect for each other. We were both so surprised someone else at Lipscomb was as passionate about reporting and the revival of journalism on campus that we didn’t need anything else in common. We were instant friends. I began so naive when I took the reigns, though: I made a weekly schedule revolving around the day we’d go to press and slated in two nights to work each week. I was happily willing to stay late each Monday if necessary; I had no idea what I was getting into. Every night was a late night, and I mean every night that entire year.

When I look back I honestly don’t remember when I slept. I remember creeping into my dorm room in the first week or two trying not to wake my roommate up and finishing my homework under my desk lamp, but if you ask my roommate she remembers visiting me every night in the office and frequently making food or coffee runs for the staff. I lived there. We had a class of about 2o students writing stories we assigned and four editors covering major campus news. The class typically produced four to six useable stories leaving quite a bit of space for editors to fill. I was too stubborn to shy away from the eight-page standard I set, so Hannahlee and I spent our evenings filling in the gaps. I realized the position was more than a sacrifice of time when I missed out on prominent coverage to edit and cover last-minute opportunities, but I loved the challenge. My managing editor turned in the main front-page story every Monday night between midnight and 2 a.m. He knew I’d still be there and I knew he’d get it in, but every week I harped on him and text messaged him daily (sometimes hourly) until I had it. Each week’s on-time release was a miracle in itself.

My “Letter from the Editor” was a mainstay on the Opinion page, but it always took last priority. It was the one thing I could do on my own from my bed, and I had to tailor it to the remaining space after I edited out the insane things the class of contributors would turn in. The writers rotated sections each week to get a feel for every genre, but something about the word “opinion” repeatedly gave the impression they should write whatever they were thinking about with no theme or purpose. This was especially dangerous in a presidential election year, trust me. When I revisit my letters I don’t even remember thinking, much less writing, half of what I said because I was so sleep deprived and weary by the time I got to them. Some were predetermined and purposed from the week whether I was responding to feedback from readers or sharing my thoughts on timely news, but others were randomly forced moments before the paper was sent out. Such was the nature of my not-so-glamorous duty.

The unique aspect of a private, religious university’s paper was the additional screening–often censoring–process involved in producing it. I had to send the first proofs in by Tuesday morning so that I could argue with the liaison between us and the administration in between all of my classes all day, make corrections and deletions after my classes, re-send the proofs that evening, and send the final approved version to the printer by midnight. I always wanted to quit on Tuesdays. People avoided the baggy-eyed, stomping, enraged version of me on Tuesdays. I would sit in chapel with the oversized printouts covered in corrections making mental notes of the deletions I’d put up a fight for. I regularly stood and made a scene moving to a seat near my managing editor so someone could take my side. By nature he and I had very different approaches to the situation. He was done with the paper on Tuesdays. He knew it was out of his control, and he insisted on relaxing for a day. I couldn’t relax when my integrity was being challenged. I fought the little battles for the sake of journalism at large, fully aware my readers would never know the difference. I lost most, but we compromised often, and I never quit. Despite the administrative villain prohibiting talk of instrumental worship and reviews of restaurants that served alcohol or movies rated-R, I never quit.

Every shameless workaholic can understand this phenomenon. I was miserable and constrained, but I had the time of my life. I got a sick thrill from standing up for what I believed in, and I was addicted to the reality of true reporting. I viewed everything I heard on campus as a potential story, and I thrived on feedback, even when critical, because it meant people picked the paper up and read it. It actually mattered when it hit the stands on time after hours fighting for a page-4 picture with a guitar.

The staff had so much fun in that office. Our sports editor decorated the new office’s walls with camouflaged hunting advertisements, an ice cream bar debuted across the hall where we could get free scoops on late night breaks, and people constantly stopped in once we were below the student center. With all that foot traffic we scored pizza, burgers and coffees from the friends who pitied us every night. We made fake layouts mocking the student government that I always feared we’d accidentally print, and we laughed. We laughed at stories that couldn’t possibly be fixed, raging political letters to the editor, arguments between the managing editor and I, and embittered writers demanding to know why they weren’t published that week. We laughed because we needed a break, but we couldn’t take one, and we wouldn’t quit.

I missed close to half of my Tuesday classes that year; I even showed up for a test at 8 a.m. in the same clothes as the day before having never made it home, but we made every deadline, and I learned so much. I learned about a chain in command, about business, about persistence and perseverance, and about a collaborative effort. I learned that readers need their Sudoku for chapel as much as they need the news, and that you have to delegate when you’re in charge…or you’ll kill yourself. I’d never do it again; a year is quite an appropriate sentence, but I wouldn’t change it either. People called me “Bab” for a year (okay, two), what could be cooler than that?

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