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Breaking all the rules

 I love rules. When I first took on the job of editor, one of my goals was to reinstill the rules in the staff. Those ranged from the mundane and important (spelling and grammar) to the important feeling but trivial (all of the elements lining up perfectly when they were laid on the page) to the minutiae of procedure during the production process and organizational management. And at 20 I finally learned what most people learn at four or five: Rules are made to be broken.

 It’s like the rules of fashion or the English language, we’re supposed to learn all of the rules backwards and forwards so that we can learn when to abandon them. The spirit of the rule is more important than the specific detail, and we frequently can’t abide by both. I came in trying to strengthen The Chronicle’s adherence to and respect for the rules, and in doing so I learned how to be flexible.

 Rules are helpful because they offer a course of action. If we follow the rules properly, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, someone already figured out the best process for making a newspaper every day.There are generic responses to sources who claim they were misquoted and prefab answers to angry callers who object to a column that ran in the paper. If we play by the rules, I thought, we would be safe.

  But it turns out some situations don’t lend themselves to cookie cutter strategies. There were no rules for how to cover the Palestine Solidarity Movement conference, which had turned violent in previous years and stayed peaceful, but raised emotions on campus. There were even fewer for how to handle reaction to the column we printed after PSM that expressed a valid opinion, but indoing so unintentionally used language that opened still raw wounds. On two major occasions when we printed articles and columns that hurt people I knew and was close to, I had no manual to follow that told me how to maintain my personal relationships outside of the newspaper.

 So even after learning all of those rules, and learning when to break them, sometimes I was still left feeling like a deer caught in the headlights, without a clue of what to do or where to turn. The easy answer is also the hardest: Ask for advice. It was tough to ask for help when I felt like I was supposed to be the one with all of the answers. I was lucky this year to have a senior staff whom I could turn to for advice in any number of situations—from the bestway to design a front page to the best way to respond to an angry e-mail and alumni who were willing to helpout and answer middle of the night phone calls. It’s impossible to have all of the answers. The key was in know-ing where to find the answers.

 Sometimes even the dozen or more people I askedfor advice didn’t have the answers. And yet we keptgoing, publishing close to 150 issues. Some where along the way, I learned that the best and worst thing about a daily newspaper is also the most basic aspect: there’s a new one every day.

When we put out an issue that was less than stellar, or it had mistakes in it, or someone was mad about something in it, we only had to look at it for one day because it was gone the next. But when we were terrifically proud of an issue, when we broke an important story or designed a beautiful graphic or put together an entire newspaper full of solid, well rounded coverage, we couldn’t rest on our laurels, that one was gone in a day, too. Like it or not, nomatter how great or terrible the day before was, we had tostart over and do it all again for the next day.

 As of today, all of that starting over is someone else’sjob. I am going to take the summer off and then startback up with college in the fall with a full courseload andwithout 90 hours of newspaper work each week or a staffof more than 100 people around me. And all I’ve got togo on is a bunch of ideas about when to break rules—anda few sources for reliable advice when Iget stuck.karen hauptmaneditor’s column

 Karen Hauptman is a Trinity junior and editor of The Chronicle. Like her predecessors, she aches with the knowledgethat she’ll never be either again.


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