Columns, Opinion

DONNELLY: End scene: A former editor’s final cut

I’ve been trying my best over these past few months to avoid clich’eacute; through sentimentalism. I ventured toward emotional sincerity with my O’Reilly tirade, but it was still something surmised at arm’s length. I gave a little hint of earnestness in musing over the plus-sized pieces of my childhood wardrobe, but there were spots of dishonesty through my attempt at satire. There have been untruths here and there for the purpose of keeping pace with my initial plan to make these pieces sardonic social commentary. I tried to be funny and I tried to project wit, but I felt an unsettling blankness in the few moments when the weight of the sentiments I left unwritten didn’t always instantly dissolve.’

There’s a potential that if you’ve read one or a few of my columns beside the eyeball-eliminating headshot that you’ve pegged me for a maladjusted wannabe incapable of coming to terms with what’s ahead of me. I expect some of you thought this was my last-ditch effort to get published before I graduate, or that I squeal with delight every Monday morning when I rush to campus to pick up a copy of my work. Truthfully, my relationship with The Daily Free Press has been a long one and one that I am only just beginning to recognize as incomparably significant.

It took me a good 10 minutes this weekend while fumbling through my backpack to dig out a key I hadn’t gripped in two years. It took another five to consciously decide to brave the city’s first seasonal snow, walk past Boston University’s fall to Boston College at Agganis Arena toward the stone steps of 842 Commonwealth Avenue. Anticipating that the locks had changed since December 2007, and that I would ultimately have to resort to my mind’s eye to paint the picture of the building’s insides from a seat at Starbucks, I felt an unfamiliar chill as my key’s revolution made the lock click. The glass door opened outward and I took my first steps inside since I was 19, miles more adept and drastically wiser.

As I waded through torn-up carpet and splintering beams that cast light on the place’s nuts and bolts, I scanned the room slowly and tried ‘- to no avail ‘- to blink. A tilted bumper sticker endorsing a 1996 city councilor I had never heard of was still plastered to the back wall beside a Sharpie-on-drywall message to ‘Get a real job!’ to no one in particular. The rows of steel desks were gone and so were the clusters of fouled couches beside them, but the tallies of offensive remarks were still etched in pseudo-permanence into the front office’s left partition. The holes we punched through doors upstairs on our last night here were still unfilled and the sad face on the lone toilet’s seat ‘- reminding us it was for pee and nothing else ‘- lasted.

BU never gave us a chance to stay at this place, and it was unsettling to know ‘- from the perspective of a visitor stooped on the back staircase under flickering ceiling bulbs -‘- that the office the Free Press called home for decades had been sitting here, between a bank and a pizza place, empty, unused and wasted to a majority of the university’s students since our send-off. After the class of 2010’s commencement, it will officially be a stranger’s spot on campus. The darkroom for photo development down the hallway to the left will never again know a spot news spread as the digital age careens forward. The rusted bell indicating Thursday’s booze arrival for a much-needed beer night will never again ring and the spot at my former editor’s desk where I found out my first-ever story as a 17-year-old would run lead in the next day’s issue will soon be reduced to dust and neglect with the rest of the place.

I wanted to write for The Free Press as soon as I knew I could. The thing swept up awards in the early ’90s like an editorial magnet while we were first learning to read, and when I first left the office after a wall-to-wall packed meeting for new writers in the fall of 2006, it was with an assignment to cover a terrorism-centered press conference with the Secretary of Homeland Security at Logan Airport. The day before, I’d been exploring dining halls and getting acquainted with my floor-mates. It was only a matter of hours before I met and spoke with a news anchor I’d been watching since I was 12 and fired questions at a Washington figurehead with puddles of brow sweat and without any real understanding of what to say or how.

And after two years, 70 stories and a legacy as one of the youngest city news editors in the history of BU’s independent student newspaper, the Free Press and I casually parted ways, citing mutual exhaustion and loathing. After a semester-long, 10-hour-a-night, five-night-a-week commitment in the fall of my sophomore year, I was burned out and too tired to stick around or help move the new team behind the publication to a back-of-house, under-rug-swept office in Kenmore where no one could see it or know it existed. I’d exposed tax shortfalls, shed light on over-policing in Brookline and received a smattering of angry emails for joking that Dungeons and Dragon players were likely without prom dates. I had paid my dues and that was that.

In the subsequent year and a half, and after internships with Boston Magazine and Dublin’s Hot Press, a short-term affair with the hub’s since-folded Boston NOW and a series of other bylines, blogs and clips, I’ve learned that nothing since my time at this now-abandoned, faceless edifice across from the College of Fine Arts has ever taught me so much.

For all its faults ‘- and there are plenty in the folds and furrows of each issue ‘- The Daily Free Press is wholly representative of an inimitable relationship with writing and identity that I never had before and will never have again. Each success was collective and each failure was shared, and the solidarity in creating something with other passionate and talented people without a single shred of tact or oversight was an experience that can never be recreated. From a makeshift castle of Rockstars in the back corner as consequence to weary coffee opponents to at-length interviews with reputable politicos over Corona stains in the atrium, the place was always ours, and it never would have been if the smallest screw or hinge had been operated under a university agenda or with any semblance of peripheral supervision.

The route from beat writer and editor to aloof, sometimes clueless humor writer is not the typical one. I admit I had some reservations this fall in establishing a new identity for myself at the new office in front of a totally new staff after having been separated for so long. And whether or not I’ll benefit at all from the work I’ve put out this fall is totally indeterminable. What I do know is that for the hardships the paper has suffered over the past couple of years ‘- financial, content-related and otherwise ‘- the students who are still here and who still sacrifice sleep and sanity are doing their best to keep themselves and this institution alive. Never pity them or decide against criticizing a poor story or misspelled headline, because this is, as a student body, our single link to a sense of tradition in journalism and to college as an institution. Say what you will about its rashness or triviality, but if The Free Press ever falters or falls apart, all we would be left with at BU is self-promotion and the stuff of our own agenda.

This is the last byline I will ever have featured in this newspaper, and it’s bizarre to know that after four years as a student here, and as stirring and moving as this sense of finality is to me, it is something that will never be understood to someone who has not experienced a semester of work at The Free Press. I barreled into 842 Comm. Ave as a wide-eyed nonentity on a mission, and my involvement flared and settled with the temperance of its and my circumstance. But as I knowingly take these few steps beyond the comforts of T-shirts to work and $1 pizza slices for dinner at 3 a.m., I never expected that this place would amount to the hardest thing to leave and, at the same time, the steadiest and most powerful launching pad I could have at my disposal.

The walls are different now, the editors are younger and there are fewer obscenities shouted over the intercom or across a crowded section meeting. It seems offensive remarks are now a dime-a-dozen and Twitter has replaced AIM as the trash-talking media standard for staff writers of city blowhards and administrative jackasses. I don’t always catch the glimpses of myself and my history here, unhidden, as I did at the place at which my journey began.

But it isn’t my office, and this is certainly no longer my newspaper. Once I leave this campus, and if I leave this city, The Free Press will evolve into something miles away and generations apart. I can’t say for sure if I know what it will become or who will pass through or stick around. But I have this desperate, uncompromising hope that my experience is indicative of those still unshaped, because I only ever truly understood myself as an element of this environment whether I was here or somewhere else.

Ultimately, The Daily Free Press is not going Hollywood, and neither am I, but there are better places to be.

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This is an account occasionally used by the Daily Free Press editors to post archived posts from previous iterations of the site or otherwise for special circumstance publications. See authorship info on the byline at the top of the page.

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