Stories and the People Who Write Them

By Joe Flaherty

I’m not quite sure what compelled me to sign up to write for the Features section one Friday in January of 2012. Maybe it was because I had not gotten very involved in a campus organization until that point. Maybe it was because I knew I wanted to improve as a writer and thought the newspaper was the best way to do it. No matter how it began, it’s hard to believe that scrawling my name on a notepad led to three-and-a-half years on the Campus team and a year as Editor-in-Chief.

Having written my fair share of articles and overseen quite a few more from my perch this year, my perspective on what it means to be a journalist/editor on a small college campus has changed. In the beginning, the goal for me as a writer and editor was to improve the newspaper in the most basic sense. ‘Are there ways I can write more effectively and explore new topics,’ I asked myself—ways to tell more so that our stories impact more people?

Now, I see the newspaper’s impact as far more broad given our audience and location. Certainly, the work of bringing news, features, opinions, reviews and sports coverage to the student body is the main priority. But there was a personal appeal to working for the paper, too. With every story I wrote, I was able to encounter a new side of campus. I could then bring my experience to the wider student body in the form of an article. Each article assignment revealed to me how much is happening on this campus once you look beneath the surface-level, Monday-to-Sunday events.

The examples are too numerous to name. For my first article, I interviewed a professor in the Philosophy department. I had never taken a Philosophy course—I don’t think I had even set foot in Twilight Hall until the day of the interview—but the article made me go out of my way to speak to someone new. In the Behind the Vest series last fall, I got to know the men and women who keep Middlebury running—whether they are coordinating grounds and maintenance or making sure the dorms have heat in the middle of winter. This year, I was able to interview our incoming and outgoing College Presidents to discuss where the College has been and to glimpse where it may be headed.

It’s easy to fall into a routine at a small, rural college. There is a flurry of activity in the first year where you meet new people at every turn and jump into a variety of new courses and student organizations. However, after a while, things settle down. One seems to be around the same people: a close group of friends, perhaps a group with similar academic interests in a major, or a sports team or extracurricular activity. The conversations can sometimes (though not always) revolve around the same set of people or experiences.

I think reading and contributing to these pages can counteract this “silo” effect. It certainly has for me. I don’t play a sport at the College, but working on the upcoming edition of the Middlebury Sports Magazine, which explores various facets of varsity athletics at Middlebury, was eye-opening. Additionally, I had never thought about the potential for Carr Hall before learning about the exciting plans for the space next year as a new Intercultural Center; I could only have guessed how the students of the 1960s were able to create an Honor Code; and before working on an article on next year’s comprehensive fee, the tuition increase cap known as “CPI+1” sounded more like a computer programming language than anything else. One of the most rewarding parts of my time on the newspaper has been the opportunity to transform my dearth of information or understanding into an effective piece of journalism that can help others learn, too.

It’s possible that hours of copy-editing in Hepburn basement have skewed my perspective to make me completely off-base on this. In any event, silo-combating or not, I have huge respect for the editors and writers who staff our team. It takes an unbelievable amount of time for even the shortest article to come to fruition, not to mention the layout and editing that goes into every edition of the paper. Despite the work required of them, I think many of my writer and editor colleagues would echo what I have written above. Once you have been bitten by the bug of wanting to get to the bottom of a story (even stories taking place on a seemingly sleepy college campus like ours), you don’t want to stop.

All this is to say that the last issue of the year is bittersweet. Although I am graduating, this newspaper doesn’t need me at the helm to keep doing what it has always done: telling it like it is and serving our readers in the College community to the best of our ability as journalists and as fellow students. There are many more stories to come. Stay tuned.