I have been writing sports for The Panther at Chapman since the fall semester of my sophomore year. There is almost nothing – besides my dog and most of my family – that I have loved more than writing those articles.
Becoming sports editor was the one thing I knew I wanted to do when I came to Chapman. I knew this even as a freshman, eating delivery Dominos’ pizzas in my prison cell of a dorm room in North Morlan Hall – a 1960s motel-like hellscape with white cinderblock walls, which Chapman has tried to convince people is almost as good the dorms that weren’t built during the Vietnam War.
For the past two and a half years – with a hiatus abroad in my junior year – this job has taught me more than any class I’ve taken and more than any other job I have had. It’s a position that teaches you how to manage everything: work, time, resources, other people and occasional bouts of insanity brought on by too much time in the newsroom on Sundays. But what this job really teaches you is how to fail.
It teaches you what it feels like to write a bad story and feel – rightfully – bad about it. There are many areas where mediocre work is tolerable, but journalism is not one of them.
The journalism department at Chapman, and I’m sure it’s this way at most schools, is tough. It forces you to develop a very thick skin very quickly, weeding out laziness and excuses – because journalism professors can sniff out B.S. like a police dog can sniff out drugs.
When someone writes a story halfheartedly, it shows. Any editor, even one at a small college paper, can tell when someone took an extra step: interviewing the opposing coach, reaching out to an expert source, rewriting a lede 25 times until it sounds right … and when someone phoned it in.
I have edited god-knows-how-many articles that have made me want to crack open a bag of limes and a fifth of gin. A poorly written article sits like an overflowing trash can in your kitchen. It stinks, and unless someone fixes the situation, it’s only going to get worse.
Journalism is an art form that requires pride to succeed. I remember running home after a women’s volleyball game to transcribe interviews for my first article: overwritten game coverage. The sports section has a two-hour deadline for game coverage and I was terrified of coming anywhere close to missing it.
It was never easy and never perfect, but I tried. A lot of the time, I failed, but that’s journalism.”
But what I remember most was seeing my name when the paper printed that Monday – a feeling of pride came over me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I still get that feeling every time I write something I’m proud of, and I feel disappointed every time I write something sloppy.
During my time at the paper, I have written plenty of bad articles and I’ve come up with dozens of painfully corny, pun-based headlines. Behind those headlines are 100 far worse ideas that were weeded out by an editor.
I know not everyone has loved me or my articles – myself included. Sometimes I didn’t know what I was doing. Sometimes I thought I did – and still didn’t.
So I’m thankful for every person who edited my stories – especially my managing editor, who had to cut 3,000 words from a 5,000-word story about concussions – every person who stuck with me through nervous interviews, and every person who has taken the time to open The Panther’s sports section and read its articles about Division III athletics.
Journalism can never truly be perfected. As a reporter, you try to go into every interview with your mind as a blank slate, aiming to get a person to open up to you about something. You try and find out who they are, why they are and who they think they are going to be, even though most college students don’t know who they are, let alone who they’re going to be.
So you take what you have. You use limited information, limited time and limited understanding of a person or a topic to try to explain to other people why they should care about what you’re writing. You take however much or however little you get, and try and paint an impartial picture.
And then you follow up, asking what Starbucks drink they were sipping during the interview, or what brand of shoes they were wearing, so you can use it in your lede to create an image of who they are.
It was never easy and never perfect, but I tried. A lot of the time, I failed, but that’s journalism – especially for the sports editor at a small college newspaper.