Senior Column: Embrace the chaos

(photo provided by Marlese)

(photo provided by Marlese)

I have written this column a thousand times, and by the time you are reading this, I’ll probably have written it a thousand more. That’s the thing about writing: Every book and article you’ve ever read will probably have scores of dead predecessors, malformed and half-finished and gutted for their successful parts with merciless cannibalism. Writing is a soulful excisement of your innermost thoughts. Editing is a ruthless slaughter of parts and sentences and things you hold dear. 

I’ve been working at The Daily Campus for four years now, since I came in as a doe-eyed freshman to write game reviews. News ensnared me, and I became its editor for my junior and senior year.  

Here’s the thing everyone says about working at the paper in their columns: At some point, they will say something along the lines of ‘When I first walked up the steps/into a meeting/into the production room, I had no idea what I was in for.’ And they say it because it’s true.  

Nobody starts working for the DC thinking they know what they’re in for. You waltz in thinking you’ll write a clip or two about golf or video games or dining or whatever, next thing you know, two clips are five, and five becomes a beat, and a beat becomes showing up to production nights even when you aren’t on shift and you become that person.  

It becomes this insidious kuzdu vine that takes over your life and your mind, and you love every minute of it, even after your friends keep asking you what the hell you’re doing at 2 a.m. eating Sour Patch Kids and waiting for the designers to finish. Nobody foresees it happening to them, and yet it happens.  

And after that, you become beholden to this beast, this system of a thing that demands feeding every day, every hour. There’s always more space for a clip. There’s always an event that needs coverage. There’s always something happening, some building burning down, and when it is, it doesn’t care that you have a quiz in less than two hours. Needless to say, my academics slipped after I took the news editor gig. What can I say? Paying attention to ICE Tables in chem is a little hard when your mind is on riots. 

And I’m fine with that. 

I fell into journalism like you fall in love, or maybe a hole—deeply and irreversibly. It’s not as sexy as you think. Those moments like you see in The Post where you get a mother lode of incriminating documents and tack away at your keyboard in righteous fury? Yeah, they happen, and it’s wonderful. But it’s not often.  

A lot of it is waiting, and covering Town Council meetings that stretch on for hours because of arguments over land trusts, and dealing with complaints that you misquoted some USG Senator or whacking your head against the wall because nobody can cover the Board of Trustees.  

But it’s those little moments—helping a writer interview Lucian Wintrich at 3 a.m., breaking some big story that all the major news outlets pick up, seeing your article actually change something for the better, getting called a bitch over the phone. I tell my writers that every angry email I get adds a year to my life. I’m probably going to live forever.  

You get angry, too. God, you get angry, especially when you run into people who don’t care, which is a lot. I’ve watched a professor get fired because the department head didn’t like them, despite their students begging to stay. I’ve seen a museum get kicked out of a building they raised half a million dollars to renovate because the university needed some office space. I’ve had to resort to crowdsourcing to get an admin to even talk to me, and I’ve heard a board of trustees member say that student loans can be paid off in a year or two, and that rising tuition isn’t a big deal. And then you want to rage to the heavens.  

And then, instead, you angrily chug water from the fountain near the newsroom, you plop down on one of the ancient couches, open up a Google doc, crack open your notebook and write your balanced, fair, neutral story. Because that’s the right thing, and the factual thing and the hard thing.  

Journalism is hard, and it’s changed me. Everything I write I parse into grafs (those one-to-three sentence chunks you see in an article) and I almost never use the Oxford comma. It makes me stop and wonder about random crap on campus, like the posters on the walls and the construction and flowers placed by a stone memorial. You can never turn it off, not really, not ever. 

In terms of journalism, I came from nothing. I walked up those creepy wooden steps around the back on a cold February Sunday with no idea what the AP Stylebook was. But despite that nothing, the DC gave me everything—more than I could ever dare to hope or dream of learning from a class. Now I have an internship and a job lined up (which is more than most journo grads can ask for), a lot of clips, a lot of anger and a lot of memories-- on top of a few enemies as well, but then again, I suppose if I didn’t make any, I’d have been doing something wrong.  

I send my heartfelt thanks to those who were involved in that kudzu-vine ensnarement; to Anokh Palakurthi for his encouragement, to Chris McDermott, Molly Stadnicki and Julia Werth for getting me into news, to Allie Retter for keeping me sane as an editor, to Steph Sheehan for her endless support, to Emma Hungaski for her endless patience, to Chris Hanna for the endless grey hairs I no doubt have caused him, to Nick Hampton for all the photo insanity, to Anna Zarra Aldrich for her organization and, as always, to my writers.  

I’ve written this column a thousand times, and maybe I’ll write it a thousand more. Like this process, my time at UConn, and my time running the news section, has been messy, convoluted and chaotic and weird. But guess what? 

That’s how I like it.  


Marlese Lessing is the outgoing news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.