Wednesday nights used to be “put the paper to bed and forget about sleep” nights. As editor-in-chief of Providence College‘s student newspaper, The Cowl, I’d often stay up until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. editing final versions of stories, re-reading headlines and making sure the paper didn’t contain any glaring errors. Perfectionism often kept me and the associate editor-in-chief there later than it should have, but we cared about the paper and wanted it to be nothing short of awesome.
In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t let the paper rule so much of my college life, but it doesn’t surprise me that it did. I’ve always struggled to achieve a healthy work-life balance; more often than not I let work take precedence, even when it shouldn’t.
The lack of sleep and the headaches that came with editing the paper were worth it, though. I liked the work and think it helped me become a more effective leader and a better writer and editor. I also met a lot of people and learned a great deal from the upperclassmen who were my editors during my first few years on the paper. I still keep in touch with some of them, including Frank, the editor-in-chief who hired me the first day of my freshman year.
I remember lugging a big blue binder of clips into The Cowl office and showing it to Frank, hoping I would land a position as a staff writer. Little did I know, it wasn’t all that difficult to get hired on staff, but I was nonetheless excited to start reporting college news. My first story for The Cowl was about computer problems at the start of the school year — a pretty straightforward story but one that I remember working hard on. (Reading it six years later makes me cringe — and realize how far I’ve come since then!)
Frank, who assigned me that first story, approached me earlier this month to ask if I wanted to be part of a committee to help commemorate The Cowl‘s 75th anniversary in November 2010. I said yes and am looking forward to reconnecting with the paper and helping out to the extent that I can. (Living 1,000-plus miles away from the school makes traveling tough.) At this point, we’re still in the brainstorming stage and are looking for ideas as to how we might recognize 75 years of student journalism at Providence College.
I saw that The Daily Pennsylvanian recently held a panel discussion and published a book to commemorate its 125th anniversary. I don’t know that we’d publish a book, but I do think that training of some sort would be valuable for Providence College’s student journalists, especially considering the school does not have a journalism program. In particular, the students there need training in multimedia, which is altogether absent from the newspaper’s Web site. Multimedia, though not a part of the paper’s 75 years to date, needs to be part of its future.
Anniversaries present us with an opportunity to acknowledge the past, but they should also prompt us to think about what’s to come, to challenge “traditions” and to ask important questions about the viability of what we’re celebrating. Some questions that come to mind are: What have we been doing all these years that just isn’t working anymore? What could we, and should we, be doing differently? How daring will we be when it comes to experimenting with new ways of telling stories?
In the case of The Cowl, the experiments might mean more hours in the office on Wednesday nights, but the benefits they yield could mean many more anniversaries down the road.
What ideas do you have for celebrating student newspapers’ anniversaries?