Exit Letter: Sam Says So Long

In their last issue as editor-in-chief of The Student, Sam Spratford ’24 reflects on their time on the paper and how she fell in love with journalism.

It would be disingenuous (but definitely nice) for me to narrate my past two-and-a-half years on The Student as a mission-driven commitment motivated by deeply-held convictions about the importance of journalism. The truth is that when I joined The Student as a news writer, I did so because I was shopping around clubs, searching for a sense of purpose in the campus community that had been desiccated by Covid. I stuck around because, in the process, I grew into a love for journalism that I didn’t even know I had — and because of a healthy dose of serendipity.

In the spring of 2021, former Editor-in-Chief Becca Picciotto ’22 needed a full-time editor for the Podcast Section, and I possessed the rare audio-editing skills necessary for the role. This coincidence, supplemented in no small part by Becca’s belief in me, is a huge reason why I’m now, somehow, writing an EIC exit letter.

I say this because it was only after I was flung into the podcast editor role that I realized how eager I was for greater ownership and creative freedom in the stories I was telling about our community. I helped launch a new show called “Terras Irradient,” which focused on longform reporting and analysis of issues in elite high education institutions, using Amherst as a starting point. I found deep gratification in the process of observing my reality closely, asking questions, and consulting the community to find answers. In the process, journalism gradually revealed itself to me as the ideal nexus of my natural curiosity and my passions for politics and writing.

At the same time, I was hosting another (now-discontinued) show, called “The Student Sums it Up,”  that brought me into collaboration with the print editors. Spending long hours in the newsroom on Tuesday nights learning about the week’s headlines, piecing together an audio news recap, and surrounded by a talented and dedicated group of student journalists, I found some of that sense of purpose that I was originally searching for. (See Liam’s letter for more on the “infectious” side of this last point.)

Still, when, in the summer of 2022, former Editor-in-Chief Yee-Lynn Lee ’23 asked me if I would consider assuming her role alongside Liam Archacki ’24, I was hesitant. Without going too much into the weeds of how editors-in-chief are selected, editors of non-print sections are typically not priority candidates. Partly because of my dedication to the paper, and partly because I’m really not the type of person to back down from a challenge (if my reporting on the messiness that sometimes is AAS and faculty meetings is any indication), I accepted what felt like a daunting enlargement of my responsibilities.

The time since has been defined by personal growth as much as by learning about the principles and significance of truthful reporting.

Often, these things have intertwined. The tightness of our editing timeline demanded that I become a more efficient and confident reader and editor. This necessarily included mistakes — from minor factual errors to, more recently, misjudgments about the proper relationship between free speech and political urgency in the current assault on Gaza — all of which taught me something about myself and built up my tolerance to imperfection. In my conversations with President Michael Elliott (who graciously invited us to biweekly meetings) and other administrative officers, I learned how and when to communicate strategically with those in power. And, perhaps most crucially, the weekly production cycle, which took up more time than some classes and culminated in grueling 10-plus-hour production nights on Tuesday, proved to me how resilient I can be.

Along the way, I’m lucky that I had Liam’s support with editing duties so that I had the time to continue exercising my love for storytelling, as with my recent piece on the Amherst alumni involved in this summer’s Writer’s Guild strike.

Looking back, what linked all of my efforts was a desire to increase the impact of our reporting. I strove each week, to the best of my ability, to publish a set of stories that were not only accurate but that, I hoped, would enrich the lives of our readers as they enrich my own, stretching the bounds of their individual experience and creating resonances between community members. One tangible result of this was our establishment of an article-sharing partnership with The Daily Hampshire Gazette, and the expansion of our town coverage, which was spearheaded in large part by Managing News Editor Julia Gentin ’26.

That being said, there is still a ways for The Student to go in terms of representativity, both in terms of the demographics of our editorial board and our reporting process, especially when it comes to sourcing. I hope that the conversations I’ve promoted and engaged with on this topic will continue and materialize into real change. The Student needs to be a publication by and for all students, and one that is conscious of its political valence both on and off campus.

As I write this (at 3 a.m. in the newsroom, under both publishing and finals deadlines) I’m still coming to terms with my time on The Student. My love for journalism struck me surprisingly and suddenly and launched me into an experience that has been challenging, clarifying, and gratifying on personal and existential levels.

Come back to me in five or 10 years, when I’ve (hopefully) found my place in the journalism industry and this whirlwind experience has had time to settle, and I’ll more clearly (and concisely) tell you all the good The Student has done for me.

What I can say with certainty, now, is that my friends and colleagues on The Student have left an indelible mark on me. Podcast Editor Andrew Rosin ’25, a talented storyteller who helped me lay the groundwork for expanding the Podcast Section, has done so well at actualizing our vision for strong audio student-journalism. The news editors I have worked with — Leo Kamin ’25, Julia Gentin ’26, Noor Rahman ’25, Michael Mason ’25, and Ethan Foster ’25 — have challenged and strengthened my confidence in my editorial judgment. Countless newsroom friends — including opinion editors Tapti Sen ’25 and Stacey Zhang ’26 — have made sure that even the most frustrating and stressful production nights are broken up by moments of joy.

Thank you to Senior Managing Editors Dustin Copeland ’25 and Kei Lim ’25 for all of your emotional support (including snack runs). You both already know this, but the late nights (slash early mornings) I’ve spent in the newsroom with you and Liam are some of my most cherished Amherst memories, and you’ve made it so easy to pass the torch.

Speaking of, I want to extend a special thank-you to Liam, who began as a colleague and ended as a friend. Thank you for trusting me, helping me become a better editor and leader, and for entertaining my sometimes ridiculous ideas. Your dedication and talent inspires me, and I can’t wait to continue becoming a journalist with you.

Hopefully my initial fear was ungrounded (as my fear is, most of the time) and this letter won’t have to define me for long. I’d like to think that this is only the first of many stages in my life where I am able to grow into my love for journalism, and through it, the world.