Editor takes risks, acquires life skills through newspaper work

When I was starting out as a freshman contributor at my high school newspaper, one of the school administrators, a kindly Indian woman with soft features and a warm smile, told me to quit journalism. Immediately.

The paper was a waste of time, she said, that would drive me to stay up late into the night laying little text boxes and going over the minutiae of sentence structure, grades and sleep be damned (in her defense, she was right about the second part). She pointed to an instance from the year before, when one of the paper’s managing editors grew so fatigued that she had to be hospitalized for several days, and wove it into a cautionary tale about the dangers of overcommitting. I was terrified.

From every way I could look at it, she was right. I had really only done math and science up to that point, and I had parents with high standards to please. There was no sense in killing my GPA over a short fling with an activity I might wind up hating. Too often, joining a club is seen as a calculated risk to improve one’s college prospects. If that’s the case, joining a newspaper is a pretty awful one.

Long story short, I’m still here doing this four years later, now as an associate copy editor of The Poly. There were probably a bunch of reasons why I chose to ignore the administrator’s advice, but I guess in the end, I stuck with the paper because I was just scared.

I was afraid that the paper would be a lot of work and that I might make a fool of myself instead of rising to the challenge. But I was also, paradoxically, scared of playing it safe and wondering, safe and sound and moderately successful six years down the road, what would have happened if I’d more risks and failed a little more often. The second fear trumped the first, so I stayed.

Not long after, it was discovered that Ms. Kindly Administrator was embezzling money from the India exchange program and using it to fund private trips to the motherland with her own children. She was gone the next year, and I only knew why because of newspaper connections. As I watched my mother shake her head in shame and disapproval, I realized that I had made the right decision in sticking with journalism.

I’ve been thinking back to that decision a lot lately, especially now that I’m having similar reservations as a freshman here at RPI. Like I did four years ago, I wondered if it was worth it to get myself tangled up in an institution as demanding, and at times, unforgiving as a newspaper.

But then I remember what journalism has given me: the conviction to stay up late into the night working on something meaningful, the critical thinking skills to analyze how rules and policy changes affect a student body at large, and the pleasure of discussing these things with some really bright and interesting peers.

And ultimately, it was the broad cast of co-editors, reporters, and contributors that made the whole experience worthwhile. Everyone I met through the newspaper gave me at least as much as I put in, exposing me to new opinions or teaching how to design pages or maybe even just baking me cookies on my birthday. Those little things are impossible to put a price on.

About a month ago, you might have read articles about The Poly’s need for manpower and the benefits of joining our staff: honed communication skills, leadership experience, a position to write on your résumé, whatever. But the truth is that if you stick around long enough, you might get something else entirely.

You might find a family here.

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