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A 115-year-old game of telephone

senior column

Whenever I’m alone in 301 Flowers, my eyes wander around the office. Nestled between Page Auditorium and the Brodhead Center, the alcove that The Chronicle calls home offers a breathtaking view of the Chapel above and Abele Quad beneath.

But when no one else is around, it’s not the quad’s perennially green grass or the interminable construction cranes in the distance that grab my attention—it’s the miscellaneous notes lining the walls, the knickknacks scattered across desks, the hints of past editors who left years before I arrived.

While standing inside an empty Cameron Indoor Stadium, they say that you can feel the aura of past legends and hear the cheers of long-since-departed Cameron Crazies emanating from the depths of history.

301 Flowers is a bit like Cameron, albeit with slightly less talented basketball players.

As I pace around the third floor, memories of late nights in the office come flooding back in a stream of consciousness. Watching the 2018 midterm election results flash across the screen, shooting hoops while waiting for late stories to come in, scrambling to cover a breaking news story, shouting in frustration at the broken printer.

I see the editor-in-chief perched before the computer, begrudgingly rearranging the front page of the paper at 1 a.m. I see the photo editor scrolling through hundreds of pictures, trying to pick out just the right one to capture the gist of a story. I see the Recess editor putting the finishing touches on a staff note, listening to a song I probably don’t know. I see the opinion editor staring into a void of white space on the computer screen, waiting for a column to be submitted. I see the sports editor watching the final seconds of a basketball game, preparing to publish a story that will soon be at the fingertips of more than 150,000 Twitter followers.

Then I blink, and it’s all gone. The office is empty again, filled with only the monotonous hum of the vending machine.

On Tuesday during spring break, I found myself writing a story about an email Duke had sent to students, announcing that classes would transition online indefinitely. This was certainly not the first breaking news story I had ever written. But for the first time, my hands were shaking and my mind couldn’t concentrate as I typed because I knew this meant that the storybook ending I’d envisioned for the last weeks of college would never happen—that dreams deferred would become dreams unrealized. 

I haven’t paced the office since early March, a time when it seemed far-fetched that the last weeks of my college experience would unexpectedly evaporate. I’ve come to terms that never again will I walk through the doors of 301 Flowers as an editor. Each time I left the office and walked down those three flights of stairs, I thought about what that descent would feel like after my last night of production. I wondered what emotions would be roaring through my head, knowing that my defining activity on Duke’s campus had come to an end. It turns out that I’d already made that last departure without knowing it, and try as I might, I’ve struggled to recollect what was going through my head at the time. But I look forward to the day I’m able to return to the office one more time, if only as a recent graduate, saying goodbye not only to the space itself but also to the community it’s come to symbolize. 

It’s in these moments that I can’t help but wonder how many other staffers over The Chronicle’s 115 years have felt the same wrenching nostalgia, and how many former editors can picture the office scenes I described above, only with different people and circumstances. Judging by the sentimental senior columns of yesteryear, I’m not alone.

So what separates us from them, the current editors from those who came before? The paper is far from stagnant—change is the only constant. Each new volume is empowered to make The Chronicle better at its work, to debate the merits of pushing precedent or heeding the advice of our predecessors. Look back through the papers from the past few years, and you’ll see a smattering of telltale editorial quirks, some of which will be passed on and others that will be lost to the ages.

This evolution reminds me of a quote by former News Editor Isabelle Doan, when amid last year’s transition of power, she referred to The Chronicle as a 114-year game of telephone—now 115, and soon to be 116.

Each year, the new editor and leadership team are given a rundown of how a newspaper works. Of course, this advice will be a slightly modified version of what the current editors heard the prior year, which, in turn, is somewhat different from what the former editors told the current ones. Hence the game of telephone. 

This year’s transition was different from most others. Nonetheless, the show went on.

After all that training, the last day of classes arrives, and each new volume is no longer beholden to the practices of the past. Should the paper print only two days per week? Should it give bylines to reporters who write breaking news stories? Should it be turned into a coloring book? These were merely three of the questions we faced during my time here (the answers were yes, yes and no, respectively).

The Chronicle has immeasurably enriched my time at Duke, and I’ll be forever grateful for the wonderful people who made my tenure in the office so memorable. I hope that my generation of editors listened to what our predecessors imparted and passed it along well to our successors—with a few tweaks that might make the paper run a bit more smoothly.

It was my pleasure to participate in this game of telephone for four brief years.

So ring ring, V. 116—it’s your time to pick up.

Nathan Luzum is a Trinity senior who served as managing editor of The Chronicle’s 115th volume and can’t wait to receive his diploma all crumpled up in the mail. He would like to thank Bre and Jake for their tireless commitment to the paper and superhuman ability to juggle 100 tasks at once, yet somehow manage to complete them all flawlessly in the end. He would also like to recognize Isabelle for bringing an amazing sense of humor to the office, Michael for helping set the “rallly” record and teaching him that not all Yankees fans are bad people, and Stefanie for being one of the most dedicated and hard-working people he’s ever met. He is forever indebted to the V. 114 and V. 115 upper mastheads for providing needed daily socialization, and he would be remiss not to recognize Likhitha, Kenrick, Vir and Frances for showing him the ropes of newswriting and reporting.

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