Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, November 18, 2018

Letter from the Editor: Four things I learned from being the editor-in-chief of a school newspaper

I was the editor-in-chief of The Eagle for 382 days, and I’m not going to lie, the year and 17 days I spent as editor-in-chief were some of the best and worst days of my life. During that time, I laughed, cried, stressed and smiled more than I had in my three years at AU prior to taking on the position. But I left the paper in the competent hands of Shannon Scovel, and I can’t wait to see what she and her staff do next year.

Reflecting on the past year, as well as my other three years as a student journalist for The Eagle, is no easy task. But there are definitely a few lessons I had to learn the hard way that I want to pass on to future student journalists.

You will make the hardest calls in your life when leading a school newspaper

A lot happens in a year, and I guarantee that at some point the EIC will have to make a tough call. It could be a source wanting to be anonymous, or it could be deciding whether there will be legal problems from printing a story. I had to deal with both during my tenure. It wasn’t easy, and despite taking the time to carefully consider all options, there was always at least one reader who thought I made the wrong choice.

What I learned from these hard choices was the importance of time and stepping back to take a breath. When making a tough choice, give yourself enough time to understand the situation, take a deep breath and make the choice you can live with.

Understand the criticism but also that you can’t make everyone happy

There were well-deserved criticisms this year. I chose to retract a staff editorial earlier this semester. What I learned from that situation is mistakes happen. When they do, figure out what went wrong in the system, fix it, breathe and move on. The breathing is the most important part. It's never fun to admit that you were wrong or that the material you allowed to be published had a factual flaw, but it is important to be 100 percent honest with the readers.

At the same time, you have to be true to the paper. People will want ask the EIC to remove articles all the time because they don't like the content, or it was written in a way that they didn't like. Stand firm. The job isn't to make everyone happy. It's to make sure students are informed, the content is objective and that the staff sought truth and accuracy.

One of the editors-in-chief before me said, "Criticizing the news media is as American as apple pie." People love to voice their opinions of news articles, and the AU community is no different. To the people who insult the paper, please remember the staff is made up of your classmates. They are working extremely hard and doing their best while balancing full course loads, internships and jobs.

The student journalist balance is hard

At AU, students take on multiple activities. Life isn't complete unless you are interning, taking a full course load, working and joining a couple clubs.

Working on a student newspaper is no different. The staff members intern, work, play sports and go to class. But what makes us different is that we are acting as professionals while learning. Let's break down "student journalist." The first word is student. We are all paying to attend AU. And note that student comes first, as it should. After all, you don't pay tuition to be part of a school newspaper. But the student aspect is important because as a student journalist, you live and breathe what you report. The people you interview are your classmates, professors and administrators. The topics you write about also affect you. Potential conflict of interest is everywhere.

Yes, the student journalist balance is hard, but I bet anyone on staff would tell you it's worth it.

So what happens if you write an article about a group or professor that doesn’t tell a positive story? Does that mean you can't take a class with that professor or join that group? Do you lose friends from the stories you write? I don't have the answers, but these are problems student journalists deal with every time they write a story. I'm happy to say that we have never stepped away from a story because of the negative consequences. But I know people who have lost friends from reporting. There were a few professors whose classes I couldn't take and a few activities I couldn't join because I wrote stories about them.

Yes, the student journalist balance is hard, but I bet anyone on staff would tell you it's worth it.

These are some of the best times of your life

What I've said so far may sound negative, but reporting for and leading The Eagle was the best part of my college career. I have loved most of my time at the paper and AU. Yes, there were rough patches of stress and deadlines, but, for the most part, working at the paper meant hanging out and laughing with friends, while getting to tell some amazing stories and maybe make some positive change at the University.

I worked with a great staff, who spent countless hours in a windowless room churning out award-winning content purely for the love of journalism and The Eagle. And I happily call each member my family. We started traditions of playing music during news shifts (“Booty Dew,” anyone?) We talked about our life problems. We ate good food (frequently, food that I made.) And we created work that won national and regional awards.

What more could you want?

hmongilio@theeagleonline.com


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