Exit Letter: Making Sense of the Miracle

Writing from the late-night newsroom for his last issue, editor-in-chief Ryan Yu '22 pauses to take stock of his tenure and the chaos that has come with transitioning back to in-person journalism. He is proud of the work of The Student, even if it might still look different than pre-pandemic.

As is tradition, I am writing this piece late on Tuesday in a hidden corner of the Morrow basement, during a lull in The Student’s weekly chaos. It is a rare moment of respite in an otherwise grueling night, in an otherwise grueling week, in an otherwise grueling year. Yet, it is in moments like these that a sense of clarity unlike any other settles in.

Perhaps you could call it a clarity of purpose, but that wouldn’t be exactly right. I make no pretensions to an innate value, moral or otherwise, for our work here; nearly four years reading, studying, and producing the news has shattered that illusion for me. But in those too-often moments where, into the late hours of the next day’s morning, I am brought to ask the question we must always ponder — “Why am I doing this?” — I am able to perceive the meaningfulness buried beneath the words and pictures that make up our weekly newspaper.

That meaningfulness, I’ll admit, has not always been stable, clear, or even present for me. It is a little surprising to me that it is as stark as it is when we stretch into the deep hours of the night, when the hustle and bustle of our newsroom dwindles down and it’s just my co-editor-in-chief Becca Picciotto ’22 and me making final revisions on the paper. But I mean it when I say that there’s something about the air of our little newsroom that nourishes the soul. Looking back on these past years, just hours before I finish my last issue editing for The Student, I feel tired, but proud. Satisfied, even.

I won’t sugarcoat it: it has been a long and difficult road, and it is truly miraculous that Becca and I have even survived to this point. I began this semester decidedly more pessimistic than I am now, and frankly, there were plenty of reasons for pessimism. I don’t think we recognized it at the time, but the task we were given — transitioning back, after almost three semesters, from a remote, digital-only newsroom to an in-person, print-and-digital newsroom — was one of the most punishing tasks you could assign to someone in our position. Especially for an entirely student-run newspaper, where involvement is directly limited by the four or so years we spend at the college, those three remote semesters proved to be a gaping hole in our institutional history. Everybody who was actively working in the newsroom when the college asked us to leave campus in March 2020 had vanished by the time we returned in September 2021, except for a select few of us. Perhaps we weren’t starting from complete scratch, but it felt pretty damn close.

It wasn’t just the formal, tangible elements of the transition to a physical paper — finding a new printer, teaching our staff the forgotten art of Adobe InDesign, securing the necessary funding — that made this semester so strenuous. Rather, it was the things we didn’t exactly know how to put back together — the routine, the culture, the community — that made it the monumental task it was. As journalists, we are intimately acquainted with the act of creation, for it is our job to fuse disparate perspectives with context and relevant information to put forth a candid portrait of our world and the people in it. This, too, was creation, but on a much grander scale: creating not a news story, not even a newspaper, but a newsroom.

To be sure, all of those concerns were frequently on our minds. During our trial semester as editors-in-chief — Spring 2021, when we were formally editors-in-chief but didn’t really feel as if we were in that role — Becca and I had chatted extensively with our predecessors and mentors, Olivia Gieger ’21 and Natalie De Rosa ’21, about what we could do to prepare for a return to an in-person newsroom, both in technical and cultural terms. But as with many of our ambitions that first semester, it all amounted to little more than meaningless conjecture without the physical presence to match it. And so, our to-do list kept piling up, set to be unraveled only in this fateful semester.

At times, it felt like we were drowning, even as we began to hit our stride with important coverage on labor and health as well as the formalization of The Student Voices program. The hours we spent seemed to drag longer and longer; the tasks seemed to multiply, even if we weren’t adding any new projects or initiatives. It was difficult to tell whether we were the last embers of a dying flame, or the match that was sparking an inferno. It felt eerily similar to the first time I stumbled into journalism during my first semester at Amherst, when I, new to news writing, was assigned my first article and then left to meander my way to some final product, unsure whether I was moving forwards or backwards. A ship out at sea, with no land in sight.

But just like my first foray into journalism somehow transformed into a half-decent piece, Becca and I eventually found land on our journey, too. It didn’t mean that the hours got any shorter or that the work got any easier — although I’m thankfully doubtful that our production process will ever stretch to 11 a.m. the next day again, as it did with our Homecoming issue — but it did mean that the foundations we laid began to coalesce into a coherent form. No longer were those formal technical elements things that Becca and I had to spearhead, and no longer was the newsroom encumbered by a deadened atmosphere. Slowly but surely, things had come to life.

It may not have been the newsroom of pre-pandemic glory, with its usual night-time Schwemm’s runs or meticulous double-print-edit corrections process, but it wasn’t meant to be. When Liam Archacki ’24 and I distract half the newsroom in order to get test subjects for our crosswords, that works for us. When someone (usually me or Scott Brasesco ’22) instigates a time-consuming debate on the irrelevant, offbeat topic du jour, that works for us. When the arts and living section (but especially Brooke Hoffman ’23E) whips our editors into a frenzy over this week’s most ridiculous title, that works for us. This current iteration of our newsroom, after all, is an object of our making. Of course our legacy lives on within it.

On one of the walls of our newsroom, there is a copy of a New York Times article taped at its center. “The Daily Miracle,” it reads, referring to the constellation of events that go into the daily production cycle of the Times. When, during my freshman spring, the then-editors-in-chief Shawna Chen ’20 and Emma Swislow ’20 taped up that article on the wall, they established a regular refrain for our paper: just as the Times had their daily miracle, we had our weekly miracle.

As attractive as that refrain is, I’ve come to disagree with it a tad this past semester. Sure, we have our weekly miracles, but we have our daily miracles too, and our hourly miracles, and our miracles at every moment in between. The vibrancy of our newsroom is a testament to the perpetual miracle that is The Student, and that miraculousness is truly ineffable.

I emphasize again: it is in moments like these, blanketed by the presence of the newsroom — my hearth for this past semester, or really the past three-and-a-half years — that The Student’s meaningfulness comes to light. For it is the embodiment of the act of creation, allowing us to see the echoes of the community around us, the vitality it emanates from each corner. It offers, for us, the sensibility of creation that is so necessary for journalistic practice, and for the type of journalism that can hold power to account. It is that same sensibility with which I’m sure that Ethan Samuels ’23 and Lynn Lee ’23, the incoming editors-in-chief, will carry the paper forever forward.

For me, all that’s left is to gaze back with Becca — the best co-editor-in-chief I could’ve asked for — on the house we built, and to say that, yes, it was indeed worth it. Painful as it was, it was worth it.