Sure, unlike many of my fellow Tower staffers, my middle school hadn’t offered me any prior exposure to journalism. Sure, I signed up for Honors Journalism out of pure curiosity. But all the hard work and love I put into The Tower over the last three years has been anything but an accident.
My first year on staff was nervewracking. Initially, I was apprehensive about publishing my writing. Although I had always loved writing, I had never had anyone but a teacher reading it. I wrote a lot of reviews during my first semester, and while they may not be the most serious form of journalism, they helped me establish my voice and get comfortable with other people reading my work.
During the second semester of my first year on staff, our Supervising Copy Editor asked if I would be interested in becoming a copy editor. I was excited to see that the leadership staff and my adviser saw potential in me, even if it was on a small scale, as a copy editor. Becoming a copy editor was a huge first step for me; I was reading and editing great writing by my peers as well as helping The Tower as a whole. Although I was already writing for The Tower, copy editing got me involved and excited about being a part of the staff.
During my junior year, Tower became my safe space. It was a difficult year for me, and I’m grateful for the platform The Tower gave me to share difficult stories, like my column about an unexpected suicide in my family. Challenging myself by purposely taking on both news and feature stories and writing multiple stories per issue gave me something positive to pour my energy into when I was frustrated with school, sports or politics.
I was also excited about my role as Entertainment Editor during my junior year because it was another opportunity to contribute to The Tower overall while focusing on something I love. I focused on working with staffers individually, editing their reviews and leaving comments on their work. I encouraged staffers to experiment with photography and video to accompany their entertainment pieces, as I found that using multiple forms of media online or in print is the best way to get readers to engage with a story.
I began my college search junior year, torn between a career in education or communications. When I left home for the Free Spirit Journalism conference in D.C. this summer, I knew the experience would help me make up my mind. On the very first day there, Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press, explained to us Free Spirits that journalists are like teachers for the American public. That made up my mind.
This year, my role as Web Editor-in-Chief has been incredibly challenging but equally rewarding. On our staff, a weekly print newspaper takes up most of the attention, and I felt that Pulse, our website, was getting brushed aside. At the beginning of the year, I decided to focus on making Pulse a bigger part of The Tower as a whole. We’ve integrated a new system that ensures we have content to post online every day and found ways for web and print to connect and promote each other.
While Pulse still has a long way to go in terms of the kind of content we’re publishing, I’m extremely proud of how far it has come. I think the web team this year has worked hard to lay a strong foundation for years to come. I decided early on this year that my goal wasn’t to set any records or win awards, but to focus on improving the website for its own good. I think that if we do that right, the awards will come on their own.
Earlier this year, I stood in front of a class of 8th graders at my former middle school. They watched and listened intently as I talked through slides about The Tower. I told them about the class, the paper, and the website. I blabbered on about the friends, deadlines and leadership opportunities. I rambled about how amazing it is that as a student, you have a voice and the opportunity to infuse change in your community. I won’t lie, I teared up a little.
When I look back at the last four years, I can’t imagine the person I’d be if I didn't have the platform, the experiences and the passion for journalism The Tower has given me. That is what’s so great about journalism- it changes the writer as well as the reader. I can’t imagine going the rest of my life without continuing to put that into action. I am excited to study multimedia journalism at Grand Valley State University next fall, along with a minor in environmental studies, so that I can continue to effect change through my writing for the rest of my life.