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Not just another news cycle
It’s Shadow Night in McElroy 113, the cluttered, cramped, no-points-for-style headquarters of the Heights biweekly student newspaper. Toward the end of every fall, after a year in charge, the 10 members of the business board and 29 members of the editorial board, including the editor in chief, vote in a new team to run the paper. Some 30 staff writers, photographers, and graphic designers vying for the open positions have one day—Wednesday, November 20, this past year—to shadow the outgoing editors and learn the ropes of the unpaid work they seek, as the current staff produces its penultimate (and 48th) issue. Boston College Magazine shadowed too.
Wednesday, 11:54 a.m. Between classes, sports editor Austin Tedesco ’15 arrived in the big basement room the Heights has occupied the past 41 of its 94 years. Dorm-style wooden desks with decade-old computers abut the office’s cement walls, which are decorated with framed back issues, an Edgar Allan Poe mask, a Frozen Four press pass from 2012, and snapshots of former editors. Tennis balls, philosophy books (property of the staff’s several philosophy majors), and crumpled copy paper litter the gray wall-to-wall carpet.
Tedesco was there to work with layout editor Lindsay Grossman ’14 on his lead story—an analysis of football defensive coordinator Don Brown’s blitz-heavy tactics. Grossman, who has designed more than 1,000 pages since joining the paper her freshman year, quickly sifted through hundreds of staff photographs to find a portrait of Brown shouting from the sideline with his hand cupped over his mouth and nose, and muttered, “Hmm?” “That’s it,” Tedesco replied. “And there’s our headline: ‘Hard-nosed’.” Grossman cropped the photo, created an infographic of defensive-team statistics, constructed silhouettes of two defensive players, and within 30 minutes had built the sports section’s front page. Over the next two hours she would do the same with the news, metro (the paper covers Boston-area happenings) arts, and opinions editors.
1:14 p.m. A few staffers arrived to begin their tutorials. Some Heights members envision careers as professional journalists, but most join with more immediate goals. Pat Coyne ’16, an international studies major, said he was running for associate editor of the sports section to ease the transition from being a “two-sport athlete in high school to not being involved in sports at all.” English and political science major Nathan McGuire ’16, a recent transfer from Providence College, said he wanted to join the news team because “you’re always immersed in the school’s happenings, always talking to people.”
News editor Eleanor Hildebrandt ’15 said she first avoided news for exactly that reason. As a shy freshman she was elected copy editor, “where you only have to talk to people when they’re wrong.” But over time she has taken on writing assignments, drawn by the tightrope walk of “compressing a two-hour event or five interviews into 500 words.”
2:41 Arts editor Sean Keeley ’15 placed a page of album reviews on the “copy couch”—a worn blue sectional—for proofreading. Lacking desks, copy editors Kendra Kumor ’16, Connor Farley ’16, and Connor Mellas ’15 have regularly staked out this piece of furniture (also the preferred spot to do homework). By Kumor’s reckoning, they have read 1.8 million words of Heights prose thus far in 2013.
4:32 “Emergency e-board meeting,” announced opinions editor Mary Rose Fissinger ’15. The editorial board holds planning meetings each Monday night and Friday morning, but when editors receive newsworthy information in the middle of production, the 16 members huddle in the 50-square-foot office of editor in chief David Cote ’14.
“We need to say something about the Campus School,” Fissinger said. The University had announced that the private school for disabled children housed in Campion Hall was considering a relocation to the Kennedy Day School at Franciscan Hospital for Children in nearby Brighton. Some 1,750 Boston College undergraduates and local citizens had signed a petition earlier in the day urging the University not to close the Campus School.
For 20 minutes, the editors bounced around ideas on the subject. Fissinger took notes on a laptop and then asked for a volunteer to write the editorial. Hildebrandt took the assignment. The printed article would say the petition was “based on emotions rather than facts” and would call for a town-hall discussion.
5:03 Thirteen boxes of pizza arrived, courtesy of a longstanding arrangement with Roggie’s in Cleveland Circle. In exchange for free pies each Wednesday, the Heights places an eighth-page ad for the restaurant in nearly every other issue. Some 45 students were in the newsroom at this point—those who couldn’t find a seat on a swivel chair or the couch stood and ate as they read copy.
7:30 Cote received his first page of the night to review, from the arts section called The Scene. He scribbled sparingly with his green pen—transposing a sentence here and there and simply writing “CBB” (“could be better”) over a couple of headlines. An editor of the section entered Cote’s changes, posted the corrected copy online, and handed in a printout to Joe Castlen ’15, the managing editor.
Cote is a jocund pre-med student who often leaves his office to banter with the editors. When he edits, he said, he checks for clarity and above all fairness. “We’re independent. We could write whatever we want. But every editor goes to school here, and lives here. We’re not going to make waves unless it’s necessary.”
After he initialed the page, Cote called in Fissinger, Hildebrandt, and Tedesco to proofread it, as well. In addition to overseeing their sections, they were shadowing him for the evening, in hopes of succeeding him as editor.
“It’s tense in here,” said Tedesco. “But we’ve worked with each other for two years. We know the paper is in good hands whichever way.”
8:52 When Fissinger had finished marking up Hildebrandt’s opinion on the Campus School and Tedesco’s editorial suggesting that Athletics host a winter pep rally, she called out, “Editorials are in.” All board members opened their laptops and began reviewing the page in a shared Google Doc, the black text becoming streaked with green, pink, blue, and yellow as editors entered their comments. “We try to have the editorial page represent the opinions of every editor,” said Fissinger, who reworked the pieces and passed the page to Cote for approval.
9:18 Freshman Mike Hoff emailed his hockey write-up to Tedesco five minutes after the game ended. As the Eagles took a 5–0 lead in the third period, Hoff typed the story on his iPhone.
10:24 Hildebrandt texted a writer who was hours past deadline, and soon received her story. Hildebrandt told her trainees what to look for in a first read: “Is it on topic? Are there redundancies? Is there any semblance of opinion?” She deleted a sentence that began, “As Eagles, we can all agree that. . . .” Throughout the newsroom, other editors were giving similar advice to other clusters of candidates.
11:05 The newsroom emptied as the editors walked upstairs to Carney’s dining hall to refuel on nachos, French fries, and frozen yogurt—a tradition at 11:05 on every production-night.
Thursday, 1:15 a.m. After metro editors Tricia Tiedt ’15 and Ryan Towey ’16 handed in their final pages of the year, fellow editors applauded and hugged them. The editors did the same when the arts section closed soon after.
1:42 News candidate McGuire cut the campus police report to fit the available space. A dozen editors and a couple of staffers remained on the job in McElroy 113. DJs were spinning records in the WZBC studio down the hall. The student step team had just finished practice one floor above. Relative silence descended.
2:51 Hildebrandt submitted the issue’s final page—the front page—to managing editor Castlen. He read it one last time, deleted one comma (with Hildebrandt’s concurrence), and then called the Boston Globe, whose presses are employed to print the student paper.
“Hi, it’s Joe from the Heights. We’re good to go,” he said, as Cote, Fissinger, Hildebrandt, Grossman, and Tedesco stood around his desk.
“Thanks. We’ll talk to you next week,” said a voice at the other end of the phone.
After he hung up, Castlen said, “No, I guess not. They’ll be talking to someone else.”
Read more by Zachary Jason