Standing still

farewell column

At my internship in Florida last summer, I marked my time by how comfortable I grew behind the wheel. I noticed when I could drive to the newsroom without pulling up Google Maps, when I would get that pang of recognition on the left turn from the gas station to the road next to the cemetery, when I could time the drive from the beach to my house in two MUNA songs. 

I prepped interview questions at red lights and took calls in my front seat. I kept towels in the trunk for impromptu sunset swims and books that I promised I would read. Sand collected in the loafers I threw in the back and I didn’t mind. I liked always being in motion. 

In August, I came back to North Carolina with no car. I couldn’t drive to the beach 15 minutes away, had no need to drive to City Hall. Everything I needed was tucked in my corner office in 301 Flowers — extra sweaters, notepads, the biggest desktop I had ever seen.

I wasn’t prepared for such a shift, though people had warned me about how different the roles of reporter and editor are. As editor of The Chronicle, I learned you stand still for much of the year.

No longer in motion, I looked for other ways to mark my time as editor. I grew to recognize who was in the sports hall based on the tenor of their voice, I watched the scribbles that graced our whiteboards change, I let the rhythm of the news cycle carry me through the year. I saw how our breaking news team, once jilted and stepping on each other’s toes, months later naturally fell into our different roles at the drop of an email. 

In a job that is incredibly fast-paced, I also learned how to notice, then deliver, by standing still. 

Alexandra Zayas, an editor at ProPublica, says an editor’s work is “thinking about what you don’t see, what’s in the negative space.” This, too, you cannot do without stopping for a moment. You must watch the reporting fall into place and then identify what questions still need to be asked, like missing pieces of a puzzle. You see both what a story is and what it can be. 

From my corner office, I have seen what Duke looks like when its community reaches beyond its past, the simultaneous writing and repeating of history — decades-old demands, new ways of living, people who have left, people who stayed

And in 301 Flowers, I have seen what the future of journalism could look like. The people here have taught me that journalism is, at its core, an act of care — let me tell your story, let me listen, let me. The act shows us how to be more than we are. 

There is a poem on my wall by Marwa Helal, titled “generation of feeling”: “I am trying to tell you something about how/ rearranging words/ rearranges the universe.” Let me tell you about the thrill of editing an article together in the office — two, three, four hands flying across keyboards, the rhythm of the sentences ringing as we read together. Let me tell you about how Katie burst into my office more than once after an interview with a grin on her face, how Kathryn’s sigh each time she finished new reporter training was both one of exhaustion and pride. Let me tell you about the first-years who came — who may have known nothing about journalism — and still stayed. 

I am trying to tell you something about how student journalism is, at once, an act of resilience and an act of care. Rearranging words rearranges the universe, no matter how big or how small. 

As I write this, newsrooms across the country are shuttering their doors. I can’t go on Twitter without encountering a reporter who has been laid off. I have been told, incessantly, that the future of this industry is bleak. On a drive, a friend and I argue about how much we should love our jobs in an industry that asks so much from us and I can’t remember now what we said exactly. What I do know is we’re both committed to working in journalism in the near future. 

So perhaps the measure of our devotion — to a piece of writing, to an institution, to an industry — is our belief in its potential. When you stand still and look around, what do you see in the negative space? 

* * *

I am writing this column a week late. Forgive me — after a year of stillness, I wanted to be in motion (literally) for a little while. 

So this is what I have done in the last week: I have sat by a lake, cooked pasta for 15 people, bought books for professors I admire, tried to journal, traced a bruise on my thigh, booked a flight, told friends I love them. I wore a life vest and felt trapped. I swam in freezing cold water until I got welts on my legs and then I laughed. I took down the photos and post-its from the bulletin board in my office. Left a note for the next editor-in-chief. Did laundry. 

This is also to say that it is only after a year of standing still that I can now see what happens when I restructure my life around care and hope — for my friends, my community, for a better newsroom, a better Duke, a better journalism industry. 

And when my professor asks for a takeaway about the future of journalism at the end of our class, I say I feel hopeful. I am not lying. I feel hopeful. 

Milla Surjadi is a Trinity junior and was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle’s 118th volume. She would like to thank Claire Shang, Becca Schneid and Elise Gutierrez for their generosity, laughter and art that sustained her this past year. She would like to thank Katie Tan, Kathryn Thomas and Anisha Reddy for being the forces that held her together and for inspiring her with their brilliance each day, as well as Jonathan Levitan for being her confidante. She would also like to thank Leah Boyd for her friendship and mentorship, for being the first to show her what a journalistic practice centered around care could look like. And she would like to thank Chris Kuo for being her first editor, for believing in her before she believed in herself. 

She would like to thank Thomas Ferraro for his unfailing ability to remind her of the joys of writing and Stephen Buckley for teaching her most everything she knows about journalism, but especially what an empathetic editor and leader looks like. You both are incredible champions of student journalism. She would also like to thank Chrissy Murray, whose kindness extends the bounds of reality and without whom The Chronicle would not stand. 

She would like to thank all of The Chronicle’s readers and writers — we can’t do what we do without you. And finally, she would like to thank the other student journalists that she has had the honor to learn from — you give her incredible hope for the future of journalism. 

Milla Surjadi profile
Milla Surjadi | Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator

Milla Surjadi is a Trinity junior and a diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator of The Chronicle's 119th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 118.


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