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Staying at home

As was the case several times this year, the morning of Wednesday, October 7, I woke up not to my alarm clock, but to a call from one of The Chronicle’s dedicated staffers.

After a few hours of sleep following a long night of production, I was still half asleep until I heard him say, “We won the Nobel Prize.”

I immediately jumped out of bed and started firing off questions—Was the news out on our social media platforms? Was someone working on a brief? What did we have planned for follow-ups?

I was relieved to hear that the answer to the first two questions was "yes," as I moved from my dorm room to my real home for much of the year­­—our office in 301 Flowers, which has everything I need but a shower—to plan the rest of our coverage.

The rest of the morning was a blur of publishing the story, trying to get in contact with Dr. Paul Modrich and eventually finding out that a press conference had been scheduled for later that afternoon at UNC. After a mad scramble, two writers and a photographer volunteered to travel down 15-501 to the press conference and another young staffer started crafting a longer story about Modrich’s victory for Thursday’s paper.

Later that afternoon, two more news writers decided to pursue a video project to compare student reactions to Duke’s second Nobel Prize win ever to their thoughts on the University’s fifth men’s basketball championship that was won in April.

Amid all of these moving parts, my job was to stay at home and make sure all of the pieces to an ever-changing puzzle came together.

In sports—the department that originally drew me to The Chronicle—staying at home means focusing on one’s defensive assignment. Being editor of The Chronicle gave me a different assignment each day in 301 Flowers, and on October 7 that meant learning about the nuances of Modrich’s research on DNA mismatch repair, even though I hadn’t thought much about DNA since high school biology.

Looking back at how our coverage came together that day and so many others, I am reminded of what any coach can tell you—staying at home pays off.

Anyone who knows me would tell you it would have been natural for me to try to take on one or two aspects of coverage myself rather than focusing on the big picture, but as editor I was forced to go against my instincts and trust others more than I ever had before, and our coverage was much stronger as a result.

The importance of providing strong leadership in Flowers when the unexpected happened was just one of the many journalistic and managerial lessons I was fortunate enough to learn this year and is the main reason there is a common setting for some of my most memorable moments of 2015-16. The main exception to this rule is Vice President Joe Biden’s campus visit in February, which I had to leave the office to cover—not that I’m complaining.

The Chronicle office is where I spent much of last summer’s first session learning how to adjust from covering sports to leading our news coverage and coverage across all sections. It is where I returned in late August to learn that $15,000 of our camera equipment had been stolen, and where I worked with our photographers to overcome that adversity.

A few weeks after Modrich’s Nobel Prize win, 301 Flowers is where I tried to help our sports staff make sense of Duke football’s Halloween “loss” to Miami after an eight-lateral kickoff return. Like everyone else, we couldn’t.

During second semester, this is where within weeks our biggest investigative stories of the year, a supplement about how a 10-year old case changed Duke and coverage of one of the University’s longest protests in recent memory all came together.

It is also where I sit now, enjoying the final moments of my editorship while trying to pass on as much of what I learned this year as possible to next year’s Chronicle leaders.

Remembering these moments and so many others that made my year unique, I don’t find myself lamenting the negative effect many of these days had on my academic performance or general well-being. Rather, I feel thankful that I got to experience them with individuals that made this year unforgettable, and excited knowing that for one more year I will get to call The Chronicle home.

None of this would have been possible without the countless leaders that came before me, many of whom believed I could be an effective editor before I did. Before I move back into the sports hall and post-editorship retirement, I also have to thank Rachel Chason, Gautam Hathi, Ryan Hoerger and Ryan Zhang for their enormous contributions this year. To the rest of our editorial staff and Chrissy Beck, Megan Haven and the rest of our business staff, thank you for all of the memories and all of your contributions. You are all the reason staying in 301 Flowers made this such an unforgettable year.

Amrith Ramkumar is a Trinity junior and editor-in-chief of The Chronicle. Like his predecessors, he aches with the knowledge that he will never be either again.


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