The most talented room on campus

farewell column

I’ve stayed awake long enough to watch the sunrise three times as a Duke student. Twice, it was because I was pulling an all-nighter to finish a term paper. The third time was after myself and three of my best friends took until 6:16 a.m. to finish editing The Chronicle’s annual men’s basketball supplement. And it was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen.

I came to Duke to receive a world-class education surrounded by the best and brightest from all over the world. That’s what I have gotten, as I have taken dozens of classes with peers and professors who’ve inspired me to learn and achieve as much as I could. I have studied with countless future doctors and policymakers and activists and researchers. But the most talented room I’ve been in over the last four years has been the Chronicle Sports hall.

The Chronicle Sports hall was where I first saw how news got reported, how sources were developed, and where I got fired as a freshman for what could generously be described as “overambitious reporting.” Even as I was fired, my editors told me how impressed they were with my eagerness and the quality of my interviewing. Two of those editors now work for Forbes and the Tampa Bay Rays. It was those editors, and the editors who succeeded them, and the editors who succeeded them who drove me to get better every time I picked up a story.

It was good-natured competition with my best friends that pushed me to make every piece better than my last. Those friends are now writing or have written for the Dow Jones News Fund Reporting Program, the Dallas Morning News, the Tampa Bay Times, and Car and Driver. Had I not been working alongside writers of their caliber every day, I would never have been able to dream of being featured in Jeff Pearlman’s newsletter or having bylines in the Los Angeles Times.

Even members of the sports department that weren’t my editors or who I didn’t know for four years were still among the most talented people I have ever worked with. One of the few road trips I took freshman year before the COVID-19 pandemic was with one of my now-best friends and a senior going on to write for Bloomberg. Some of the most outstanding features I’ve had the privilege to read and edit came from someone a grade above me who graduated early to work for the NBA league office. One of the handful of Duke alumni I’m in regular contact with joined the Chronicle for only their senior year, 2021-22, and now works as an analyst for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Every moment I spent in that sports hall, I was surrounded by an even greater measure of talent than I was aware of.

But what made the sports hall truly special wasn’t just the talents of those working there. What made it special was the fact that you could walk in most days at any point between 4 p.m. and midnight, and you could never tell that the handful of faces in there — almost always watching a live sport or playing a word game or Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots or laughing hysterically at something you had to close the door to be able to be filled in on — would soon be populating some of the most renown newsrooms in the country.

I remember the nights in the Chronicle Sports hall my sophomore year, the last year we did biweekly print production, like they happened only yesterday. I spent so many nights sitting in a row with three of my best friends, often seeing who could make the best joke most likely to get us in trouble if we put it in print. I had no idea at the time that three years later, we’d each be doing much of the same work, only for our careers.

When I, Evan Kolin, Shane Smith and Max Rego finally finished editing our 2020 men’s basketball supplement, we left the sports hall at 6:16 a.m., the latest anyone on record had ever finished a supplement in that room. We had been working for over seven hours to produce a paper that included four of the best stories the Chronicle has published in my time here. We also spent quite a bit of that time cracking jokes and telling stories, which may not have helped our time efficiency, but I like to think it made for an even better paper. As Shane went to his car and the other three of us walked across Abele Quad to catch a couple of hours of sleep before class, the sun rose over West Campus. It was the last time the four of us worked on production together. But it was not the last time I would work with each of them in different combinations.

Soon, I will have my final production night in the Chronicle Sports hall, as will Max, as will Jake Piazza, as will every senior in the department. Collectively we’ve pushed the boundaries of sports coverage in a world with COVID, of what it means to be invested in coverage of Olympic sports, of understanding the sociopolitical implications of college sports, of what it means to capture a moment and tell a story. And as many of us move on to do the same in professional newsrooms, a truly impressive group of rising juniors and rising sophomores is taking our place.

As long as Chronicle Sports exists, some immensely talented handful of friends will always be walking across the quad at some obscenely early hour in the morning. That handful no longer includes me, just as it no longer includes the dozens of Chronicle Sports alums now working at the Wall Street Journal or Athletic or Sports Illustrated or Insider. But there will always be that handful of writers. And the sun will always rise over Abele Quad.

Em Adler is a Program II senior studying Urban Planning who was a women’s basketball beat for the past four years (other than the few months she was fired) and a women’s soccer beat. She has also covered softball, tried to be a Director of Talent Development, was the V. 117 ChronChat Editor, and served as Honorary Sports Masthead.

Em would like to thank Jake Piazza and Max Rego for being there every step of the way, encouraging her both to continue getting better and to be more lighthearted. She would like to thank Evan Kolin for finding the balance between giving her latitude in her coverage and keeping her accountable. She would like to thank Sasha Richie, for being both the perfect friend and one of the most creative people she’s had the pleasure of working with. She would like to thank Shane Smith, who set the bar for what covering a beat should look like. She would like to thank Nithin Ragunathan and Cam Polo, without whom the sports hall would not be what it is today. She would like to thank Andrew Long, for being there as a wonderful human being at some of the wildest times in her life. She would like to thank Matthew Griffin, for her first introductions to real journalism, and Leah Boyd, for just so, so much. She would like to thank Jonathan Levitan and Micah Hurewitz for their service. She would like to thank Martin Heintzelman and Mackenzie Sheehy, who will take her dear women’s basketball and soccer beats to heights she could only dream of. She would like to thank Babu Chatterjee, for just about everything they could ever think of.

Em would like to thank Lindy Brown, Robbie Church, and Joanne P. McCallie for helping her foster this unexpected love for sports journalism. And she would like to thank Howard Megdal, who has shown her how to go from an aspirational college writer to a professional.

Em would also dearly like to thank Ramona Naseri, for just existing in Chronicle Sports. And last but certainly not least, Em needs to thank Jonathan Browning, for being a mentor, a best friend, a heck of a co-beat and one of the best people she could have ever hoped to meet.


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