Taylor Smith is a senior news and magazine major and writes “Bold Type” for The Ball State Daily News. Her views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper.
Once upon a time, before I sat in my bright red plastic chair, lowered it as close to the ground as possible and powered up my desktop in the Art and Journalism Building’s Unified Media Lab to print my first edition of The Daily News as its editor-in-chief, a former editor-in-chief and the big sister I never had told me sitting in that chair would get lonely.
It’s not necessarily that I didn’t believe her, but at first, I couldn’t possibly see how I could feel lonely in a room I considered my second home, surrounded by people who had become my best friends over the past four years. I knew the job wouldn’t be easy, but I had my chosen family behind me, and they were all I needed.
I was three months into the job when I felt it for the first time.
The more stories I edited and pages I sent to the printer, the lonelier I began to feel, and I couldn’t figure out why. An editorial board of more than 20 friends and coworkers gathered in the conference room every Monday and Thursday night to plan the week’s paper as a team, and I spent nearly 12 hours every Wednesday dodging Nerf footballs and hitting 10,000 steps running around to everyone who needed me.
The first three months were a nonstop adrenaline rush. Every hour I had went to The Daily News, and if I didn’t have any left, I pulled the time from somewhere else. My experience as a student journalist taught me the newsroom is a second home for a lot of people, and when you spend that much time together, you become a family in the best and worst of ways.
I was never alone, but when the only company I had was Slackbot letting me know I had another problem to solve and yet another friend to disappoint at 2 a.m., the following four hours of my night that I spent overthinking were some of the loneliest I have ever felt.
Those nights are partially on me, because despite the support system I had behind me in former editors, professors and an adviser who always had my back, the biggest challenge I faced was in supporting myself, and that’s entirely natural for a college student still trying to figure out who she is.
I’m pushing my bright red chair in for the last time days after writing this piece — my final goodbye to The Daily News. After publishing more than two dozen editions from the same seat my “big sister” sat in two years before me, I finally understand what she meant when she warned me I would feel by myself sitting there, too.
I also realize it’s because I had the opportunity to sit in her seat that I can say I do understand, so how can I expect anyone who hasn’t done the same to understand the position I am in now?
There is nothing I wouldn’t do for a single person on the editorial board, and I did all I could to prove that for longer than I’d like to admit. I turned a job I dreamt of performing as a freshman news reporter into an endless chain of lose-lose situations.
I no longer just felt alone. I felt like a failure, too, and while those who did support me constantly reminded me I was succeeding, I have never been the type to see the glass half-full.
When my lock screen went days without a single text notification and I knew a decision I made turned friends into enemies for the time being, I turned to a handful of emails from another former editor-in-chief I’ve collected in my inbox since late last August. Compiled, they’re long enough for me to turn into a little book. While I appreciate every little critique and note the sender of these emails took the time to include, the fact they took any time at all to remind me they had my back mattered to me most, and I felt less and less alone every time I got to star a new email to keep forever.
I didn’t hold onto those emails because I had no one else to talk to, but because I felt there were only so few people who understood what I was going through and believed in my ability to come out on top, and sometimes, all I needed was a reminder that someone else just like me came out on top, too.
Communication between both of those friends and I hasn’t been consistent, but it’s because of our one common newsroom experience as editor-in-chief that it doesn’t have to be. No matter when I reach out, they are always there.
It’s because of their willingness to share their experiences as editor-in-chief with me, and the support of a handful of others along the way, that I not only made it through my time in the role, but am ending it as confident as I have ever been in who I am as an editor, a writer and a person.
The freshman news reporter I was in 2018 felt blood rush to her cheeks every time one of her editors complimented her stories, not out of humble embarrassment, but rather an overwhelming fear of stepping on the toes of those around me.
The sophomore lifestyles reporter I was in 2019 didn’t expect to become managing editor instead of lifestyles editor either, but just because no one expected it doesn’t mean she didn’t deserve it. And, she definitely didn’t need to hear that she didn’t deserve it for another two years after getting the job and proving that, actually, maybe she did.
I am happy to say I no longer feel the need to prove myself to those who don’t believe in me because I have learned to care more about the incredible people who do, but I carried those discouraging conversations in my already too-heavy tote bag in and out of the newsroom with me for two years before I decided to replace the weight of their words with advice I had from two former editors: “It doesn’t matter if anyone else believes in you as long as you believe in yourself.”
The bright red chair sitting at the first desk in my pod of computers haunted me at the end of every print night as I turned to leave the Unified Media Lab — forever representing the more capable, confident people who wouldn’t doubt every decision they made, only to inevitably spiral into a state of overthinking in which even I convinced myself I didn’t work hard enough to earn the opportunities I’ve received. Now, when I push in my chair’s bright high-back at the end of the night, I know I earned it all.
The Daily News may have taught me almost everything I know about journalism and writing and editing. It may have helped me figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life, and it became my purpose all throughout my college career.
But the most important thing The Daily News did for me was help me find my self worth, and after 22 years of endless doubt in myself, there is simply no possible way for me to express how thankful I am for everyone and everything that helped me find my confidence again — through passion, paper and the long-overdue acceptance that not everyone will always believe in me and what I do. What matters most is that I believe in myself.
After years of believing I didn’t deserve to lead this paper, I am proud to say my story has a happily ever after, because now, I finally believe I deserved it all along.
Contact Taylor Smith with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @taywrites.