For my last piece, I have kindly asked my editors to let me use Oxford commas. Just this once.
The Daily Campus is technically a student newspaper. No one who works there would agree. It’s a loosely organized social club that meets every weeknight, spends hours making sex jokes, and happens to produce a newspaper as a bonus. Like platypuses, no one knows how it’s been around this long, and both are an affront to God. The dumbasses that comprise this cursed place are my greatest friends, and I’ll miss them like nothing else at UConn.
Anna Zarra Aldrich, my fearless editor-in-chief-in-heels, is the exemplar of journalistic excellence. No one thinks of me when they think of “a journalist,” nor should they, because I’m really not one. I never took a single journalism class here. I may come to mind when you think of “a cool guy” or “a generic Pitchfork user,” but not “a journalist.” That’s Anna. Forever steering our ship away from the rocks with diligence, she will undoubtedly be the “cool professor” to many future students. This may be one of the first times she has been thanked in a farewell letter, but it’s a certainty, like life and death itself, that it won’t be the last.
Alex Houdeshell, my managing editor, is so cool. Her natural chillness (not a word, leaving it in, fire me) pervades everything she does, from hiking to writing to wearing shorts in any weather. In my abbreviated stint as the Igor to her Dr. Frankenstein this semester, I got to spend many nights sticking it out with her to the end of production, mooching rides once everything got sent successfully to Hartford. I can say being indoctrinated with Taylor Swift for five minutes a night, two nights a week, for two months, has forever altered my brain. You won.
Julia Mancini and Melissa Scrivani were the editors of the Life section for my junior and senior years. They never once rolled their eyes at me no matter how asinine or dumb my pitches were, from a blatant propaganda piece about my home city of Philadelphia, predicting accurately how the Eagles would win Super Bowl LII, to an ambitious data analysis of the distribution of groundhogs on UConn’s campus. They let me write a column about my misadventures during my semester in Prague, and they even let me call it “The Czechlist” without firing me. This year, they gave me the opportunity to write a full-year column, “The Undertow,” allowing me to wax poetic about whatever I want to, as long as it relates to music in some way, shape, or form. Julia and Melissa were the definition of a power couple, leading the section to document what makes UConn, UConn.
The Life section, a forever-changing blob of writers, was what drew me to the building behind Moe’s in the first place. In August 2017, I was a transfer sophomore, thrown into Storrs with no connections. After signing up at the involvement fair, I went to my first Life section meeting, and meekly signed up to cover a puppetry event at the Ballard. Almost three years and over 100 stories later, I couldn’t be happier with my time at the section. Without my work there, I would have never known the range of events UConn brings to its students and staff each year, and, especially considering the current circumstances, I’ll miss them.
There are so many other people to thank, and I’ll do so personally, as to not dilute both this piece and what they mean to me. The paper is nothing without the people that produce it, and I’ve been forever touched that they were my colleagues and friends for the three years I was a part of it.
Journalism is, always has been, and always will be, important. Things happen, and they always will until they won’t, so someone needs to write about them. Anything short of that risks losing those memories to the opaque void of time. Millions of recorded texts have been, and those not yet lost to the process will be eventually, as this too shall pass. But we cannot make it easy.
Being a student journalist in this political moment has been revealing. The story of Deadspin, a website I admired an incredible amount and was one of the reasons I looked into the field to begin with, will stick with me for some time. The site’s writing and editorial staff quit en masse due to its new ownership’s atrocious new directing. “Stick to sports,” they were told. Don’t run outside the basepath and bring in cultural, political, or socioeconomic standpoints. A nominally sports site like ESPN may have taken this suggestion on the chin, but Deadspin spent 14 years crafting a unique journalistic identity toeing the line between sports and the world surrounding that term, injecting humor and irreverence between the lines of their stories. To simply suggest this originality that brought them such a special spot in the zeitgeist should be thrown to the wayside in the name of “sticking to sports,” was bullshit. The journalists that made Deadspin saw that, left, and now the site is a sorry husk of what it once was.
They left because, now more than ever, standing up for what you believe in is paramount to this field. We have a hostile president who sees anyone writing down what he and his cronies do as a traitor and “the enemy of the people.” To report is to lie, and to conceal is just. I’m not sitting here and saying in the farewell of my times as a student journalist that the president of the United States hates me. He doesn’t know I exist, and frankly, if he tweeted about one of my articles on puppetry or whatever in a negative light, I would be thrilled (albeit confused). The shadow he has cast over this honorable field is something felt from college newsrooms to news centers from sea to sea.
I have been told by people entrenched in this to stay away from staking a claim as a big boy journalist because of the innate instability that it provides, which is only worsening. The current COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbates this corrosion, shattering independent news sites that pressed forward in ordinary times on the most shoestring budgets. And that really sucks because, goddamn, do we need good journalism right now. Every aspect that makes up American society has either fallen, or is showing signs of doing so.
Last week, I read a perfect example of what journalism can do in these times. Titled “Nannies Tell the Truth About Working During the Coronavirus,” Anna Silman’s retelling is what it says it is, which is what the best journalism should be. Five working-class nannies lay bare the struggles they’ve felt since the start of quarantine, in their own words. It’s a peek into the lives of people I will never meet, and it made so much of an impact on me that I’ve shared it to several people I know. That’s the power of good and crucial journalism in this current crisis.
There is no better time to write than now, in a new world no one could have pictured just months prior. Together, yet apart. The failures of our systems are laying themselves bare, destroying lives and eviscerating society. The amount of injustices happening every day in our country is reprehensible, and it’s up to us to write all that fits to print. But that limit is a relic of a time gone by. With the printing presses shuttered for the moment, we are unbound. Digital media is the future, with its incalculable size daring us to write as much as we feel is right, no ink wasted.
“Come on,” the blank page beckons. “What do you want to say?”
Daniel Cohn is the outgoing associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.