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May 24, 2018

Persistence on the Paper

A graduating Maroon editor reflects on the importance of perseverance during her time on the paper.

This is Maroon article number 71. My instinct is to begin with: “Katherine Vega, an outgoing news editor for The Chicago Maroon, is writing a senior column for Viewpoints, claiming to have been prompted by deep nostalgia.” Instead, I’ll just say that I am really, really nostalgic about my time at The Maroon, and I want to tell you why. I am, above all, a news writer. So I want to tell you what this whole experience has meant to me from the very beginning as accurately as I can. There will be quotes.

When I came to college, my goal was to join the paper. I wanted to join the paper because in high school, the paper (which I was not on) was very prestigious, and the people who wrote for it were very successful (which I was not). Early on in my first year, I found myself in the old Maroon newsroom listening to three very frail and lethargic editors monotonously explain the sections to a group of eager first-years. They said that I could devote as much or as little time to the paper as I wanted. Sign me up!

I began this journey with a very zealous group of peers, some of whom had been leaders of their high school papers and were aspiring editors. When I first started on the paper, turnover was very high. It was common to apply for an editor position after a quarter or two of writing, and if you didn’t get the position, you might quit. Editors themselves would cycle out after a quarter or two unless they had loftier goals of eventually joining leadership. I applied for associate editor after winter quarter of my first year. In my rejection e-mail, the news editor at the time made it very clear why I wasn’t selected: “We hope you stay involved with News in the future and apply to be an associate again, though we want to remind you that consistency with deadlines and article assignments is something we consider when reviewing applications for associates.”

Yikes. Maybe I just wasn’t editor material. That left me in the same position I was in before, just this time, a little more conscious of deadlines. “It’s really not a problem!” I responded. “I was going to stay involved in The Maroon either way, and I really just enjoy working on the paper in general, even as a writer.” I was made a senior reporter for my trouble.

At my peak, I was writing 10 news articles a quarter. My second year, the editor-in-chief used to send out “endnotes” after every issue with shout-outs to staff who had really shone in that issue. No normal person would remember getting such a small and casual honor, but I definitely do. “Shoutout to Katherine Vega for writing not only the F1 story (students got arrested!!!), but also the F2 story (we suck! according to the Economist, which also sucks), and being Prime Adviser on the Editorial?? what.... what the fuck girl??? Legendary.” I read that e-mail and over and over. I read it again just now.

And so I settled into a comfortable routine. I was happy writing. My editors would trust me with more important stories. Making phone calls got less scary and transcribing interviews became easier. Writing an event brief was like filling in a template. I continued in this role as a senior reporter for two years.             

There were rough times, too. In the spring of my third year, I reached what was definitely my lowest point at the paper. After a longer article I wrote prompted backlash, I got a very different kind of e-mail from readers—I can’t say I go back and read those too much, but they were formative nonetheless. Those e-mails taught me that people were actually reading what I was writing—that my words carried weight. I think that, for the first time, I felt like I existed within some kind of sentient body called “the paper,” and that I had to let “the paper” handle the situation. The newly instated editor-in-chief, who had started the same year as I had but existed on another plane of competency, handled the backlash with grace and poise. I handled the issue by crying a little and complaining to anyone in the newsroom who would listen. I wrote a lot of drafts to reply to the e-mails but never ended up sending them.

            The summer before fourth year, I applied to be an editor once again. It was very different from first year. This time around, I knew I would get the position. I also knew that, for once, I actually had something to offer the news team besides my stories. I still wanted to write, but I wanted to help others write too. In less than a year I would graduate, and the dozens of articles I had written would not mean much. If I helped lead in a new group of writers, I might be able to pass along some of the skills I had gained over the years. I think I realized that although I had never once been the best, never being the best for a long time had made me good enough. Working with the new writers this year has been my biggest accomplishment. In them I see a spark I wish I had had my first year. I hope they stay and lead the section in a better way than I ever could.

This is all to say that working on The Maroon has taught me some very important lessons. Of course, it has taught me how to be objective, how to write clearly, and how to work on a team, all things I often rattle off at job interviews. But I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned is that being on The Maroon was never about being the gutsiest reporter or most organized editor or the most hard-hitting interviewer—I was none of those things. I think it is just about being there. People say that they want to be “a part” of something. I think for me, being a part of The Maroon meant never being apart from it. It was a constant in my life for four years. Even when I wasn’t working on something for a small stretch of time, a new story always brought me back. I trudged to the office in the rain and in the snow and hunkered down there even when it was lovely outside. I still come there now during my senior spring.

There are a lot of things I will miss about The Maroon. I will miss spending late nights in the basement, eating fruit snacks, annoying copy, and making secret phone calls. I will miss knowing so much gossip literally all of the time. I will miss that people trusted me with things that were so important. Next year, when I have no paper to call my own, I will have to look for something new to be a part of. I’ve realized that something lies outside the realm of journalism, so I am hanging up my editor hat for good. Scattered around my room—on a chair, in between old notebooks, under my printer—are old copies of The Chicago Maroon, and I’m taking them with me. But, before then, I have to turn this in. I think the deadline was three days ago. Some things never change.

Katherine Vega is a graduating news editor for The Maroon.

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