College newspapers mix earnest professionalism with a students’ need for juvenile self-amusement. The Daily Campus is not above this, but it tries hard to do the best it can. Few people understand this situation like managing editor Matthew Zabierek.
“It’s not meant to be perfect,” Zabierek said. “It’s not meant to be the Wall Street Journal. We’re not even supposed to be the Willimantic Chronicle. We’re going to make mistakes and that’s just how things are supposed to go. It’s sort of a microcosm of college itself.”
As managing editor, Zabierek guides the day-to-day operations of the newspaper. He makes schedules, ensures everyone is paid and takes a final look at issues before they’re sent to the printing press.
Zabierek’s shifts at the paper will generally go from about 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., because a morning issue requires work late into the night. Around 1 a.m. The Daily Campus is quiet, with nothing but fluorescent light from the desktops and the sound of his own typing to keep Zabierek company.
“The computers can smell fear in you,” Zabierek said, huddled over an iMac checking spacing on the front page.
With his graduation just a week ahead, Zabierek reflected on his meteoric rise to power. He was an entry-level campus correspondent in January 2015, took over as associate news editor on short notice, was named “Daily Campus Cynic” at the group’s annual banquet, and became managing editor at the end of March 2015.
Internally, Zabierek has placed his focus on creating a more enjoyable work environment. Externally, he’s focused on building up the organization’s website, but most of the credit for that goes to digital editor Jackson Mitchell, Zabierek said.
“He’s certainly the best managing editor we’ve had in my time,” senior staff writer Kyle Constable said. “He created the best product and the environment is great. The tag team of Matt and (editor-in-chief) Kayvon gets things done.”
The Daily Campus retains an unusual amount of freedom for a college newspaper. At many schools, newspapers are overseen directly by the journalism department and or funded by the student government, as was the case with The Argus at Wesleyan University.
“Professor Croteau’s not coming in here telling us to print ‘Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems’ on the front page,” Zabierek said, referring to the head of UConn’s journalism department.
The paper is the students’ own work, and that makes it a unique, original experience for most of its employees. Zabierek was drawn to The Daily Campus for this reason.
“As soon as I came I fell in love with the idea of getting together and creating something meaningful,” he said.
Zabierek said he’s proud of this past year’s work. Over the course of 60 issues, The Daily Campus covered the viral rise and fall of Mac and Cheese Kid, student demonstrations against racism at college campuses, corporate buyout of the university’s bookstore and Taylor Swift’s surprise donation to the HuskyThon dance-marathon fundraiser.
“That Taylor Swift story I’m pretty proud of. The subject and the story isn’t the most impactful in the big picture but the process of getting that story… I think I can say that a year ago that our writers would not have taken the initiative to chase down the student who got the donation from Taylor Swift, interview him, get the quotes for the story and get the story online like that,” Zabierek said, snapping his fingers. “I think that’s an indication of how far we’ve come as a newspaper.”
Zabierek was honest and open that no student newspaper can ever approach the New York Times or the CT Mirror as a government watchdog, but hopes that it can offer a unique service to UConn students and locals.
“I’d like to think that (for the few students who don’t roll their eyes or hate us for that one bad thing we printed about their friend that one time) we serve to keep them updated on everything that’s happening,” Zabierek said. “We serve as an alternative voice to the corporate pre-packaged sanitized message that gets disseminated from the weekly Susan Herbst email or UConn Today story that’s just pompoms and cheerleaders about everything UConn does.”
But first and foremost, the student newspaper is a platform for professional development, Zabierek said. It’s a learning experience, a positive one, at least in Zabierek’s experience.
“I’m unlikely to ever be getting paid to manage people I call friends ever again,” he said. “I’d go to war with my pack any day,” Zabierek said.
Chris McDermott is the news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.