To journalism and beyond

It's 4 a.m. and a printer is rattling and burring for one of the last times during my tenure at The Chronicle.

A semester ago, I would have been lying in bed awake, resting contented that another issue had been published while still agonizing over the questions that plague all good journalists: Was I spun by that source? Did I push this source too hard? Did I frame that story safely, or will it put the paper in court and stir a riot on campus?

I can't speak for Ambika, my boss and my partner--she can speak for herself above me on this page--but now, as the year hustles to a frenzied finish, I feel as if I am losing a piece of me with every issue. Yeah, I know, it's pathetic. But after two more issues, it is as if I will have been sapped dry by the paper.

In a way, that's true--much of the energy and passion I began with has faded into the routine. I've done all I can to improve the paper's look, to force fairer, more responsible governance, and to teach younger writers how to create clearer, more intriguing articles.

I've probably grown as much personally as this job will allow me. Not only can I write a better story faster and deftly quiz some brilliant and well-meaning campus leaders, but I've learned a lot about organization (though I cannot see the surface of my desk) and a ton more about the value of conciliatory words (though my sarcastic wit still flares its forked tongue). I've also found out a lot more about vengeance than I ever wanted to.

Just about two years ago, my managing editor "grandfather" wrote a stirring column about sucking up a crushing editor election defeat to return to an organization that he worried had rejected him. I could repeat much of that column, but unlike Rich Rubin, who wrote that he dutifully accepted his place, I became juvenile, wanting to take revenge on staffers I felt had betrayed me and on Ambika, who had shown me no wrong.

It wasn't until late September that I realized the absurdity of my bitterness and began to learn graceful humility. I never apologized to Ambika or my staff--I hope this column will suffice.

Despite my initial behavior, this has been a year of joy. One in which a freshman-year whim to emulate my favorite author Ernest Hemingway more fully blossomed into a love and devotion for journalism.

What initially gripped me about reporting was the art of the minimalistic phrase. Now, rather, it is the substantive truth that finds its shadow within a few well-placed words. A good journalist can never be a post-modernist--fact demands too much. Incompetence is incompetence and corruption is corruption. Don't tell me that you don't know what corruption is--that you don't know what the corruption issues are on campus. And certainly don't say, "It would be odd not to have corruption." Truth is complex, but with a little skill and a lot of practice, it elucidates itself to those willing to step back and objectively put to word what they observe.

I've also found joy in the discovery that truth resides in light, as much as it does in the printed word. My occasional mismanagement at The Chronicle necessitated my becoming a hack photographer. It's an interpretative science with which I've learned one can illustrate truth and only use words when necessary.

And like a grainy film, both my column and The Chronicle's 97th volume, as a whole, have managed to capture but a rough sketch of this past year.

My next will be a far different venture. I will be a journalist of a higher order, traveling to East Asia to report the truest word and to tell of the most radiant light.

I'll still read The Chronicle online--if government censors don't block my access--and I'll still offer my Chronicle friends advice and story ideas.

I'll miss 5 p.m. budget meetings, playful banter over the intercom and breakfasts on the balcony. Dare I say it, I think I'll mostly miss the twice-weekly editboards--the sessions in which we conjure up the staff editorial at the far left of this spread. Editboard can be the most tiresome, cramped and uncomfortable five hours of my week--especially when I call the vote and my opinion is in the minority--but still they are one of the only forums for informed debate I've found on campus; University officials would be well served to consider the arguments rather than whine to reporters (who are not responsible for the editorials) that we begged to differ.

And, sadistically, I may even miss being woken up by Triangle Web printers telling me to stumble back to the office so I can fix another careless mistake.

But I am exhausted and the time has come for another generation of leaders to drive the paper, to learn humility and to agonize over what rattles and burrs at 4 a.m.

It's an honor and a thrill.

James Herriott is a Trinity senior and managing editor of The Chronicle.


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