Editor to Student Newspaper: ‘Thank You for Giving Me a Front-Row Seat to a Hell of a Year’

Sarah E. Brown is wrapping up her run as state and national editor of The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s also worked at or written for a host professional news organizations during her time at UNC including The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bloomberg, La Jeune Politique and the North Carolina daily The Pilot. In the post below — originally published on her blog and reposted here with permission — Brown says goodbye to the DTH. The sentiments are at times specific to Brown’s paper, school and coverage area, but they should also be recognizable more generally to anyone who’s served or is still serving on staff at a student media outlet.

By Sarah E. Brown

It hasn’t hit me that it’s all over. I’m not sure when it will.

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Sarah E. Brown is the outgoing state and national editor of The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Upon graduation, she will be working at The Chronicle of Higher Education.

For the past week I feel like I’ve gotten a much-needed few days off from The Daily Tar Heel to take finals in classes that I’ve mostly attended but to which I’ve sometimes not devoted my full attention (dear professors: I really am sorry). I’ve pretended not to care about my grades anymore — because, well, it’s the senior journalism major thing to do — but I care a little.

Now I’ve finished my last exam and have no plans for the next five days besides cleaning, packing, Netflix and a beer or two. I feel kind of confused

The DTH has structured my life five days a week for nine months. I knew I had to be in the office by 3:30 p.m. every day. Before then, I was frequently responding to texts and emails from staff writers who needed help with their story angle or who had called state legislator after state legislator and heard from none of them (no surprise there).

I squeezed in runs during the hour break between classes or between editing stories. Homework, papers and studying took a backseat until StatNat’s content was copyfit and the shells for the next day’s writers were written. That often wound up being 11 p.m. — or later.

No, I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I haven’t hung out nearly enough with people outside the newsroom and I haven’t given a whole lotta love to my battered GPA. But I wouldn’t have spent my final year at UNC any other way.

It’s hard to explain exactly how much the DTH means to me. I encountered that difficulty at our annual banquet in late April, when I stood up in front of 100 fellow DTHers and just didn’t know quite how to put it (even after two whiskey sours).

I’m a lot better at writing things down, so I’ll give that a try.

Thank you, DTH, for bringing me out of my quiet and shy high schooler shell to chase some of the state’s biggest and most controversial stories. This transition culminated in an occasion earlier this year where I marched into a meeting — that should have been public — including some of the most important people in North Carolina higher education, and I was thrown out.

Thank you for giving me people to laugh with (and drink with) when I needed it most.

Thank you for giving me a place to screw up pretty badly and learn from the mistakes. I’ve fielded dozens of angry source calls and cried about corrections, and I’ve gotten a damn good spine out of it.

Thank you for bringing me back when I thought I’d strayed away for good. During my spring 2014 semester abroad in Paris, I was sour on journalism, frustrated with writing and pretty confident that I didn’t want to do reporting anymore. Then the application process for 2014-15 desk editors began, and I somewhat begrudgingly asked for one and began filling it out. As I answered questions about why I wanted to do this job and what my plans were for the DTH, my mindset changed. The passion I had for the paper came flooding back.

Thank you for giving me the chance to work with some unbelievably talented and diligent journalists. My assistants and staffers reported dozens of stories and sat in the office for hours writing and editing and writing more — and while I occasionally paid them in cookies, they didn’t really get compensated for it. I love each and every one of y’all.

Thank you for giving me a front-row seat to a hell of a year at UNC-Chapel Hill. We’ve covered countless angles on a scandal, on race issues, on college athletics and on the ousting of the state’s top university leader. And one of my most rewarding memories of the DTH will forever be watching our city and sports reporters drop everything and devote an entire 24 hours to putting out two special newspaper editions covering a devastating student shooting and the death of a basketball legend.

Thank you for making me deal with the frustration of technology, sources or whatever not going my way. You taught me how to problem-solve — how to suck it up, get around the issue and make the final product happen. Because that paper will go to print every single day, no matter what.

And thank you, DTH, for the miles of road trips and the hours of transcribing, for the long days and the late nights, for the 132 bylines and for everything else I inevitably have forgotten to include here.

It still hasn’t hit me that it’s all over. I’m not sure when it will.

To check out the original post, click here or on the screenshot below.

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