I imagined writing this letter in the FreeP office, curled up on the couch I’d been known to take midday naps on or in the glow of editors’ lamps after a long day. The murmur of staff chatting and fingers typing would have comforted me as I started a new chapter of my journey at the paper.
Instead, I am at my kitchen table in Kentucky, “Coronacation” playlist on full blast to drown out the distracting clamor of my cat scratching to get in and my dad yelling trivia answers at the TV. Once fueled by Starbucks cold brew and midnight runs to CityCo., I’m relying on Nespresso pods and less-exciting trips from the couch to the pantry to get me through the night.
This has become editing home base for me since I, along with most of the student body, was forced to move out of my dorm in Boston — dare I say it — amid the coronavirus pandemic.
I was editing a breaking news brief on my phone at a gas station in Connecticut, mere hours after packing up my room nearly two months early, when I realized I’ll never be in the office with my editors again. At the same moment, I knew COVID-19 would define the Spring 2020 semester, and we had to find a way to safely but comprehensively report on it.
My semester as editor-in-chief had been, and still is, important to me. I wanted to uphold the reporting FreeP had been known for — even improve upon it if I could — and make sure writers, editors and photographers were learning and growing along the way. But when I found out I had to pull that off during a global pandemic, I was hesitant to ask much of my editors.
Instead of shying away from the task, though, our first remote editorial board meeting was the most productive and collaborative we’d had all semester. We were ready to rise to the challenge, not because we’re bored in quarantine, but because we take our responsibility as a publication seriously. Also, yeah, we’re bored.
It’s funny to think that in December, I had wondered if anything as significant as Ben Shapiro’s campus visit would happen this semester or if we’d have anything unique to report on. It becomes more clear by the day that what is happening has never and likely will never occur again.
That’s a daunting story to cover for someone who has only known one newsroom: the basement of 708 Commonwealth Ave.
Many editors-in-chief before me filled their days with journalism courses and internships. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone groaning over a Newswriting assignment or cursing an upcoming History and Ethics (or is it Law and Principles?) of Journalism exam, I’d buy the whole office Insomnia Cookies instead of hoping they’ll give us their leftovers at 3 a.m.
I often get confused looks when I explain I’m majoring in Economics and International Relations, with no prior or future reporting gigs planned. While leading FreeP is so much more than a resume builder, it sure doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to pick up a beat at a major publication down the road.
So, why did I just spend 40 hours a week gaining experience in a field with no apparent relation to my career goals?
Read almost any of these end-of-semester letters and you’ll get some iteration of “I became a writer on the first day of freshman year, climbed the ladder without stopping and suddenly I was editor-in-chief.”
For the most part, that’s my story. I applied to be a Features writer before even moving into Warren Towers, gained some experience that semester, became an Opinion columnist the next and was suddenly on the fast-track to running the damn thing.
But I’d be lying — and the others probably were, too — if I said I knew I’d be here when I first applied to write two years ago.
Unlike them, I had no interest in journalism at the time. I applied because I’d gotten pretty good grades on essays in high school and for the most part seemed to enjoy writing them more than my peers. I was also opinionated, which I thought might come in handy if I ended up writing columns or editorials — it did.
Instead of shying away from a freshman with little tangible experience in journalism, FreeP welcomed my clean slate. At the first Features pitch meeting of the year, I found out I actually had that in common with most of the people in the room, including a fellow budding writer that I had no idea would become a close friend and editor just one year later.
I have a strong passion for journalism after learning the ins-and-outs of reporting the truth and gaining appreciation for the extensive work that goes into a publication. But what drives me more than that, especially now, is my passion for FreeP.
This paper may be the beginning and end of my journalism career. To most editors-in-chief, that’s a crisis. To me, it was a reason to put everything I had into making this semester memorable. It’s safe to say I got what I wished for.
These times have seen the FreeP cover everything from the impact of self-isolation on hotels to virtual Earth Day celebrations and what Hogwarts might look like in a pandemic. By the end of this week, when the Spring 2020 E-Board has published for the last time, we will have put out over 200 stories about COVID-19 — and it’s not because of me.
To Jennifer, Sam, Angela, Ausma, Maya, Sarah, Chris, Hillary, Sophia, Caroline and Justin, thank you. Without your enthusiasm and endless stream of pitches for our next story, this newspaper would have been lost.
To every associate editor, writer, photographer, podcaster and more, thank you for confronting this head-on instead of shying away from a new way to report. We aren’t a newspaper without you.
To the 2019 novel coronavirus, thank you, too. You pushed us to work both smarter and harder, and helped us make history along the way.
Don’t misunderstand me: thousands of deaths and the turmoil of underprivileged communities are not worth a student newspaper’s opportunity to do something unprecedented. But if it was inevitable, I am thankful that my editors and I were safe and well enough to put out some kickass journalism along the way.