Advocacy, education and service: farewell from the Editor-in-Chief

Alex Freeman poses next to every edition of The Lawrentian she worked on during her tenure. Photo by Alana Melvin

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I remember being scared. 

I was sitting with my legs crossed on the floor, looking up at an office no bigger than the smallest dorm room on campus, filled with boxes full of newspapers and upperclassmen. It was the Fall of 2019: my first ever Lawrentian editorial board meeting. 

Four years, four jobs, 82 issues, and god-knows-how-many meetings later, I can barely recognize the version of myself in that room.  

So much has changed since then. A pandemic shut down the paper, along with the rest of the world. We have a handbook that explains all the boring details I never wanted to learn. The faces I see in the editorial board meetings are entirely different (now I’m the scary upperclassman, or so I’ve been told). But most importantly, I’m not scared anymore. 

Still, my time on the newspaper has easily been the most challenging part of my college experience. I’ve spent countless sleepless nights worrying about a new writer’s first big story, going back and forth trading edits and brainstorming ways to improve our training, journalistic integrity, and commitment to the truth. I’ve been called into meetings with powerful decision-makers at this institution, where I’ve had to manage the delicate line between building bridges and defending our coverage from attacks. I’ve fought with administrators, students and other editors alike. I’ve even lost a few friends. 

But without fail, I’ve come through on the other side. I’ve learned, I’ve adapted and I’ve put out the fires.  

Besides, for every sleepless night, there are also moments of joy: seeing a new writer beam as they post their first front-page article on their Instagram story; watching that writer improve in each consecutive story, and getting the honor of helping them grow into talented reporters and editors; seeing a direct line between Lawrentian coverage and tangible improvements for students on campus; serving as a resource for editors trying to make things work in impossible circumstances; advocating for this paper at every opportunity. 

Even in meetings in which I was personally attacked for advocating for this staff, this publication and our purpose, I never wavered. No matter how uncertain I was about myself and my own abilities, I have never doubted that what I was doing was right.  

Advocating for student journalism is more than defending our freedom of the press. It’s creating resources and opportunities for our staff to learn about the field, build transferable skills and get the journalism training that Lawrence does not provide. Throughout my time on the paper as both as news editor and as editor-in-chief, one of my main priorities has been establishing training protocols to ensure that future editors have the resources they need to teach incoming writers the basics of journalism and encourage them to develop as journalists. I hope I have equipped you all with everything you need to continue (and to improve upon!) training practices in the coming years. 

Of course, many of these valuable changes have only been made possible by the development of our closer-to-equitable pay structure. When I first joined staff, writers were given a flat rate of $15 per article, regardless of whether their work that week took half an hour or 10 hours. Although the exact structure of this system may change in the near future, I want to assure you all that I remain steadfast in my advocacy for providing our writers and editors with fair compensation. 

Journalism cannot be something that only students from privilege have the opportunity to pursue. Because Lawrence doesn’t have a communications or journalism major, this is the only training that most Lawrence students can receive in reporting. Journalism is the only career community offered by the Career Center which has no corresponding major or courses to help students develop the skills they need to thrive in this career. Training and education is part of everything we do, in every single issue we release. 

Given the level of work we achieve — and the critical service we thus provide to this campus — it’s easy to take for granted what happens when newspapers aren’t funded: interviews don’t happen, every story is editorialized, investigations are unrealistic, photos are scarce and the entire paper may take up only four pages. The Lawrentian has made such incredible strides during my time at Lawrence that it’s easy to forget what the paper looked like only four years ago, but I can remember it. I will do everything I can to maintain the standard many generations of editors worked so hard to set. 

Our reporters are passionate, they want to inform our community, they want to write about things that matter — and they work so hard. They make this paper special, and without some form of financial support there’s only so much they can do.  

Alex Freeman poses next to every edition of The Lawrentian she worked on during her tenure. Photo by Alana Melvin

To our writers and photographers, I appreciate each and every one of you. Your work is valued, your work matters, your work makes this community better. I hope that we, as a paper and as a school, are serving you as well as you have served us. Do not ever doubt the importance of your journalism, and know that people are noticing, and people are caring. 

And, of course, to my lovely editorial board, I know that you are the backbone of this project we have collectively undertaken. You do the thankless, unglamorous job of making sure that we get to print every week, that new writers and photographers get the education they need, that we uphold the highest standards of journalistic integrity. Working with you all has been the pleasure of my life, both as individuals and as a unit. 

Amber and Miri, thank you for being our counterparts on the executive team — your input and guidance pushed us to be better, even during my absolute worst moments. 

Nathan, thank you for always working so hard. Your passion for this work is clear to everyone who meets you. Sophia, thank you for continuing to be a resource for the newspaper even after your retirement. You were incredible at your job, and we miss you, but I’m so thankful that you’ve continued to be a part of this team. Kat, thank you for taking on an unexpectedly challenging position with so much grace. I have been so impressed by how you have handled every situation that has been thrown at you. 

Evan, thank you for being so proactive about improving your section (and for editing this story!) You never lost sight of your goals for the section, and your actions have undoubtedly made Op-Ed better. Shirley, thank you for your constant reliability. I have never needed to worry about you getting your work done, making adjustments, or upholding the principles of journalism, and I am so grateful for that. Amir, thank you for remaining committed to the paper despite the constant shifts with the structure of your section. I appreciate your continuing willingness to work with us and make changes. Sean, thank you for always filling your section, no matter what. Even if every story fell through, you would take on the reins yourself to ensure that we have something to print. 

Adam and Alana, you have saved me from a design disaster time after time. I know I can always count on you to get us incredible photos, even at the last possible minute. Elizabeth, your ideas for social media are spot-on, and I love the direction you’re taking us. You have been so thoughtful in developing a strategy and adapting on the fly, and I’m so excited to continue watching you work through our Instagram. Mae and Mercury, thank you for making sure that our copy is clean and accurate. Good copy editing is what makes a good newspaper into a great newspaper.  

Hugo, it has been an absolute pleasure to get to know you this term, and I am so excited that you’re staying on with us as a copy editor. I know I can always count on you to get the job done, and to get it done well. Paola, thank you for learning to do the job I never wanted to do. We miss you, and I’m excited to reconnect this spring. 

Joey, Nina, Blair and Helen, welcome to the board! I hope to have the opportunity to get to know you better, but I’ve been so impressed by all your work so far, and I can’t wait to see what new insights and initiatives you bring to the paper in the coming term. 

Rose, I am thrilled you are becoming copy chief. Based on everything I know of you and everything I’ve seen from you, I am convinced that you will create the best edited newspaper we’ve had in years. It takes a certain eye to copy edit, and you have it. Lucian and Mikayla, welcome to the club. Thank you for reassuring me that I’m leaving the paper in good hands. Your ideas for the paper are strong and compelling, your experience puts you where you need to be, and your temperaments match what you need in order to run a newspaper. Trust yourselves, you’ve got this — but if there’s ever anything I can do to help, I’m just a text away. 

And, of course, Taylor, thank you for being my partner in all this. Your commitment and adaptability have allowed me to focus on the aspects of this role that I thrive in and to have the reassurance that, even if I drop the ball, you’re always there to make sure everything gets done. I know you think I could’ve done this job without you, but I never would have wanted to. 

I can’t wait to see what you all do next, and I send you nothing but love. Thank you for everything