College Media Geeks: Sarah Kirkpatrick, Outgoing Daily Free Press Editor-in-Chief at BU

Outgoing Daily Free Press editor-in-chief Sarah Kirkpatrick at Boston University recently summed up the rigors facing student journalists with compelling candor. As part of a letter announcing her exit as EIC, Kirkpatrick offered a glimpse into the college media battle royale between technology and tradition, the classroom and the newsroom and idealism and reality.

As she shared, “At this very moment in time, I would argue, student journalists are caught in one of the most difficult situations of any type of student. We are asked to keep up with modern trends, and criticized by the traditionalists when we strive too far outside the box. We are asked to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards, and get scoffed at and feel defeated when we can’t do absolutely everything. We must put sufficient effort into our classes and work ridiculous hours on extracurricular publications to have a shot at any sort of future.”

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In a recent chat with CMM correspondent Karen Funaro — the second installment of our esteemed College Media Geeks interview series — Kirkpatrick discusses the challenges and misconceptions surrounding those “ridiculous hours” she mentions in her letter. She also touches on the power of chocolate and the importance of occasionally featuring music and sports on the front page.

What is one thing most people outside the newsroom don’t understand about working on a student newspaper?

It would have to be the time commitment, most definitely. I know a lot of people at BU who aren’t necessarily communications majors, they tend to make fun of people in COM because they only have a couple classes [while] science majors have a full schedule of classes. But for the people who are actually putting in the time as journalism majors and in the newsroom, it really is an exhausting schedule. You may not have as many classes during the day, but you’re in the newsroom from 5 p.m. until sometimes 5 or 6 a.m. I just think a lot of people don’t necessarily understand how exhausting it is, how you have to be on call 24/7, how it’s a job in addition to classes.

1A quirkier question. You mention in your final letter that you “owe every bit of [your] minimal health this semester to Airborne and Clorox wipes.” Explain.

So I’m a person who manages to get sick. If anyone coughs within a 1-mile radius of me, I manage to get a cold. On the last night [in the newsroom], I hadn’t slept in two days because I had papers due for another class [and] I managed to come down with a pretty nasty flu, so I was a great sight to see. I was on the couch in the bathroom like shaking and crying and wrapped up in my snuggie, not feeling well until my managing editor finally told me, “Get it together. We have a paper to put together damn it!”

In terms of Airborne and Clorox wipes, our office was just a mess. I said I’m not going to get any sort of germs from anyone. So I literally went around honestly every day with Clorox wipes just wiping everything down. In terms of Airborne, I got the Airborne Gummies. Those are so good. I took like two or three of those a day. I think that gave me the slight energy boost I needed to actually be a productive human, much less run a newspaper.

You also write in the letter that you can never truly accomplish sanity as a student journalist. To that end, any offbeat tips to help j-students remain sane during those long, stressful nights in the newsroom?

Keep a snack in your drawer — chocolate! I had a full drawer of M&M’s, and Trader Joe’s has these chocolate espresso beans — those saved my life pretty much. So keep food, but keep a balanced diet. That was something I struggled with. There would be periods when I wouldn’t eat all night, then go to 7-Eleven at like 3 in the morning and get a Slurpee and Cheetos. That’s probably the worst thing you can do for your body. So just try to really eat as [healthy] as possible, but still keep treats on the side. And make sure you have friends outside the paper who are willing to talk to you and slap some sense into you and make sure you are doing OK. Within the paper, I have a lot of friends, but they are just as engrossed in the paper as I am — so they aren’t necessarily as stress-free as some of my friends who are outside the paper.

“When it’s one in the morning and you decide to switch something last minute, at that point you really don’t have time to worry about whether there is going to be a ton of backlash for it. You have to go with your gut. If it’s something you think is right and you think it’s a good thing to do and you think it’s the moral thing to do, then you have to go with it.”

1What are some ways you managed to think outside the box with your staff?

In terms of a time when we thought outside the box and came together to produce a really great product that hadn’t been done, at least in recent years, was our music issue. The whole issue [published in April] was themed around music and bands at BU and BU graduates who have gone on to do pretty cool musical things. … I think sometimes news people get a little offended when you suggest their stuff might not necessarily be the most important thing. And it is important. I’m not going to say it’s not important obviously. But I think that at least to have that one day when we took a step back and decided to do something tailored to the community of music fans, and especially local music fans, that was something that we really came together on and said, “This is important. We need to try something new.” And for the most part, at least from what I heard, we didn’t get any criticism for it. …

I also tended to put sports on the front page more [than past editors]. Again, that might just be my own personal bias, but I think there are people who are very interested in sports and I wanted to tailor the newspaper to that sort of interest a little more. And again, there might have been some people who didn’t necessarily agree with me all the time, but it’s something you can’t really dwell on too much. When it’s one in the morning and you decide to switch something last minute, at that point you really don’t have time to worry about whether there is going to be a ton of backlash for it. You have to go with your gut. If it’s something you think is right and you think it’s a good thing to do and you think it’s the moral thing to do, then you have to go with it.

What is your advice for students aspiring to be journalists or thinking of getting involved with student media at their school?

The most important thing you can do is show up — whether it’s an open house, a club fair or whatever. Just show up. You don’t even need to have a specific interest in mind. Just shake the hands of the editors, introduce yourself, get your name out there. That was something that I think was really important for me, going to those sports meetings, saying, “Hi, I would love to write sports. Here’s a specific sport I would like to write about.” If you can go in with ideas … and say, “I want to do this, but I’m still willing to do anything,” I think that’s most beneficial.


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