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Chronicle editor reflects on four years 'in the arena'

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.-Teddy Roosevelt, April 23, 1910

Barring the Gauntlet-it's the guiding principle in my life. I got the idea for the title of my column on a road trip to D.C. during the summer of 1993. I was driving with my dear friend and predecessor Alison Stuebe, and we were talking about a mutual friend who had recently had an abortion and who was, quite naturally, going through hell over it.

As the handkerchief-carrying, car-door-opening, white Southern man that I am, I told Alison that I wished I could help that friend by doing something-anything-to ease her pain. To that end, I told her about something in comic books called the "Infinity Gauntlet," which is basically a glove that grants its wearer omnipotence. I said that I wished I could put on the Infinity Gauntlet and, quite literally, snap my fingers and fix everything for my friend. Alison, with her requisite ability to cut through my crap, replied simply, "Justin, barring the Gauntlet, you're going to have to learn to deal with it yourself." Bingo.

Being editor of The Chronicle for the past year has taught me how to bar the Gauntlet in ways that I never could have imagined. As editor, I have been solely and wholly responsible for the entire content of the newspaper. At the age of 21, I have made decisions that have changed the lives of those around me, never knowing for certain if what I was doing was right or wrong. In some cases, I still don't.

I'm not sure, for example, if we did the right thing by printing the name of the sophomore girl who was charged with drunken driving last semester. Legally, we were in the right, and I was following a longstanding Chronicle policy that had been applied to many people before her. Ethically, however, I'm not so sure. As her friends told me she would, she left school shortly after the story was published. I do not know if she will be back, nor do I know if The Chronicle was the only reason she left. But nevertheless, I know that my decision, for better or for worse, profoundly affected the life of someone I have never met, someone I probably will never meet. Did I do the right thing? Standard journalistic practice would suggest that I did, but maybe standard journalistic practice is wrong. Maybe reporters need to temper their news sense with compassion and stop to consider the human costs of what they do.

I've also made some decisions, however, that I stand by unequivocally. The stories we printed on the religious group "A Chosen Generation" kept that group from being recognized by Duke Student Government and, hopefully, kept people from joining it and being sucked in to something that, quite frankly, scared the hell out of me. Other stories, such as the ones we've done on Spectrum Organization or on the Chapel's policy regarding gay unions, have helped shape the campus discourse in what I think is a good way. The articles may have been critical, but they were fair. And that's all I, or any editor, can ask for.

Why, then, the Teddy Roosevelt quote and the explanation of my column title? Because during the past year, I have come to realize that what matters is not whether you can fix everyone's problems or whether you can make everyone like you-what matters is that you stay in the arena, that you feel the dust and sweat and blood on your face. You may act incorrectly, but at least you are acting-at least you are striving valiantly. Failure and error are simple facts of life. And when you're a newspaper editor, they mean a lot more to those around you, since they wind up getting printed and repeated countless times.

Nothing on this campus-no person, no class, no organization-could have taught me the true meaning of Roosevelt's words better than The Chronicle has. The blood, sweat and tears that go into producing a daily newspaper are something you can only comprehend if you climb into the arena of 301 Flowers and see it for yourself. It may not be perfect, and it may kick you in the teeth just when you think you've got it under control, but it's still the most beautiful thing I've ever seen-and the thing that I have loved most in my life. I can't really explain why. It's the people, the pressure, the magic, the reward of seeing your all-nighter culminate 15,000 times over. Every time I sit back and think about it, I catch my breath and thank God for leading me here.

As I leave Duke after four short years (freshmen, you have no idea how short), I think back to what this university has done for me. It has given me a great deal, but nothing so great as the chance to work for and fall in love with something that has given me more than I could have imagined and has, quite simply, made me who I am.

One bit of thanks-to Michael Saul and Alison Stuebe, for teaching me the love and convincing me that I could handle the job. And to the staff of the 91st volume, for putting up with me and never hesitating to come back for more. I love you guys, even more than you know.

Well, I guess that's it. Four years and 596 issues later, it ends. Time to give the old girl up.

She's your baby now, Brian. Take care of her for me.

Justin Dillon is a Trinity senior and editor of The Chronicle. He aches at the knowledge that he will never be either again.


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