Student Journalist Spotlight: Henry Rome, Outgoing Editor-in-Chief, The Daily Princetonian

Henry Rome deserves mad Prince props.  During his tenure as editor-in-chief this past calendar year, Rome repeatedly pushed The Daily Princetonian into the national consciousness.  He built the Princeton University campus pub into an outlet with substance and style– helping staffers break big scoops, complete investigations, and figure out the paper’s place in the webified world.

I won’t say Rome has a slight news obsession.  I’ll let him say it.  Roughly a year ago, an interviewer wanted to know his greatest fear.  Forget sharks, needles, heights or crappy roommates.  Instead, Rome’s simple, journalistic answer: “Being scooped by another news organization about anything related to Princeton.”  Boom.

Those words, and that worry, constantly produced action– most prominently late last September just after he learned of the university president’s retirement announcement.  The subject line of Rome’s immediate staff email, in all caps: “BREAKING ALL HANDS ON DECK.”  Staff subsequently fought harder than “Hunger Games” participants, producing a print-online coverage smorgasbord that is worthy of some serious peeled-back-eyelid amazement.  (More on that effort in answer three below.)

Henry Rome, outgoing editor-in-chief, The Daily Princetonian, Princeton University

At Princeton, the 21-year-old senior from Strafford, Pa., majors in politics and minors in near eastern studies.  Yet, in his words, “[A]s Prince alumni like to say, I truly majored in the Prince.”

For his major college media efforts, Rome earns a rightful spot on the journ-A-list.  He also deserves a place in the CMM Student Journalist Spotlight.  Below, he talks about dealing with angry readers and what it takes to be a great top ed.  He also makes a prediction about the Prince’s short-term future in print.  He responded late last month, just before handing over the EIC reins to Luc Cohen.

Write a six-word memoir of your student journalism adventures so far.

One simple question: what’s going on?

Where does your journalism passion come from?

Since I was 8, I have been a practicing journalist.  It started with putting out my own newspaper for my neighborhood in Massachusetts, which turned into internships at professional publications and an editorship at my high school and college paper.  It’s been my life.  I love knowing what’s going on, analyzing complex issues– and then being in a position to tell people about it.  I think it started as an excuse to be curious, and as I got older I developed a greater appreciation for the role of journalism in any community and to a democracy.

What is a particularly standout memory from your time at the paper?

My absolute favorite moment from the past year was our coverage of the retirement announcement of President Shirley Tilghman, which came on a Saturday morning in September.  As any college newspaper editor will tell you, Fridays and Saturdays are the only days of the week when we do things like see friends, eat normal meals, call parents, and (desperately) do homework.  But on that day, editors and reporters worked with an extraordinary level of vigor and enthusiasm in dropping everything to get the story.  It was exhilarating.

[This is what he wrote in an editor’s note in September.]  “Over the span of 12 hours, a team of 19 editors and 19 staffers aggressively covered the story from all angles in all media, from print to video to social media.  Staff from across campus converged on the newsroom to write 11 full-length articles or columns and publish more than 40 tweets and Facebook posts.  In addition, we shot a video, created an interactive timeline, and searched through all of the Prince photo archives to find old photos of Tilghman.”

2

What is the most challenging part of being top editor?

The most challenging part, and one of the parts that I enjoy the most, is dealing with angry readers.  Whether they are businessmen or government employees, alumni or professors, students or high-ranking Princeton administrators, the conversations usually entail a good dose of education: Contrary to the beliefs of many, we are an independent news organization that receives no money from the university and does not dedicate itself to projecting a “positive” image of Princeton.  We report the news, pure and simple.  It is relentlessly challenging but deeply rewarding to have the privilege of defending our news organization on a daily basis.

What advice do you have for j-students similarly aspiring to be EICs?

First step is to be a really solid beat reporter and have experience doing long-term stories.  It not only exposes you to the core of journalism, but puts you in positions where you have to defend your work.  Along the way, hopefully you’ll get addicted to reporting.  Second, follow the trends in media today.  One of the most fun parts of the job is being able to experiment on our small scale with new ideas and best practices in the media world.  Third, you have to believe in the role and importance of journalism in your community and have a vision for fulfilling that role.

What is one question we should be asking much more often about journalism?

There’s understandably been a great deal of speculation about what journalism should look like in the coming years.  I think there needs to be an equally honest conversation about another question: Who will be producing it?  “Citizen journalism” is a popular response to this question, but these freelance contributors have not proven utility beyond breaking news and event coverage (which they are very good at).  Of course, that kind of reporting is only one part of journalism.  And the most important kind of reporting– long-form features or investigations– cannot be done by a person with an iPhone but without an editor or any training.  Who will be producing the more challenging but most important forms of journalism is still an open question.

You wake up in 10 years.  Where are you and what are you doing?

I will most definitely still be reading the ‘Prince’ and probably be writing about foreign affairs.  For the record, I think the ‘Prince’ still has a good five to seven years of print publication ahead of it.  Print is still too popular, on our campus at least.

Related

Student Journalist Spotlight: Priya Anand, Editor-in-Chief, The GW Hatchet

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