When I think of Duke, more than anything I will think of The Chronicle and 301 Flowers. Once you get beyond the general mess of the office—it has, after all, been passed down from generation to generation of college students—you realize that it is one of the most extraordinary places on campus.
In less than two weeks, I will graduate. If that does not make me feel old enough, I only need to think about how different the person who walked into this office in the fall of 2008 was from who I am today. That was dozens and dozens of articles ago. That was before I met many of my closest Duke friends. That was before—with all due respect to the economics department—I learned most of what I have learned in college, all from people more or less my age. (I never quite learned how to spell, though. Lindsey and Toni, you both know this all too well.)
If you are not very familiar with the way that The Chronicle works, it is worth taking a second to understand the way that the paper that arrives on stands each morning is created. Take, for instance, the editing process. Once the writer has reported and constructed the story just right, he sits down with a copy editor, who runs through the story line by line and who, more or less, has the responsibility of figuring out everything the reporter did wrong. “Did you push President Brodhead about how this decision was made? Why not? This is a bit wordy. How can we fix it?”
The writer, once his story is thoroughly vetted, goes home. Then, one of the paper’s top editors takes over the piece, reconsidering the article’s structure and checking the story for factual accuracy. More often than not, the reporter will get a call from this editor late that night to clarify a couple of details. From there, the article is placed into the layout of the next day’s edition. Then, an associate editor who has not yet seen the story reads it a final time on a printed mock-up. This happens with every story, five nights a week. It takes time, so most nights the PDF of the paper does not get sent to the publisher until 2 or 3 a.m.
It was going through this process so many times that taught me so much. You learn to write clean copy because if you don’t, an editor will sit there and stare at you until you rewrite the sentences so that they make sense. You become careful with the facts because you feel like a moron when an editor corrects your mistakes. You learn to tell stories because if you can’t keep the reader’s attention, there’s no point in writing in the first place.
This brings me to the other part of my Chronicle experience that I will not forget. This work is only possible because of you, the reader, who cares enough about Duke to pick up the paper in the first place. I know that sometimes you open the paper for the crossword, not my stories, and from the online comments I know some of you are absolutely crazy. At the same time, I can tell you that there are few things as satisfying for a writer as arriving to your 10:05 a.m. class, exhausted from the previous night’s production, only to see the person sitting in front of you reading a story you worked on.
Journalism has changed since I entered college. The revenue model is different—and for some papers, unfortunately, it has more or less disappeared.
The Chronicle’s watchdog role will perhaps be more important moving forward than it has been in the past because of the changes in the field. Smaller staffs at local papers mean fewer in-depth stories about Duke. Meanwhile, the University is telling more and more of its own story through Duke News, which is more an extension of the school’s public relations department than it is a watchdog. There remains a desperate need for a paper that is willing to ask the uncomfortable questions, and I hope that will always be The Chronicle. The staff must continue to facilitate campus discussion and insist on transparency.
Some of my friends still ask about my experience “studying abroad at The Chronicle” junior year, when I served as the news editor. I sometimes describe it as the perfect year-long experience, but a fun thing I would only do once. But that’s not entirely true. I miss the paper already, and as excited as I am for the next stage of my life, I’m not sure that I’m quite ready to leave.
Taylor Doherty is a Trinity senior. He is the special projects editor and the former news editor of The Chronicle. He would like to thank his family for their support throughout Duke and the members of The Chronicle staff for a great four years.