Conditions of possibility

The 124th managing board says goodbye to the paper

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When we were elected a year ago to The Cavalier Daily’s managing board — the five-person team that runs the paper — we found ourselves faced with two, maybe three, questions.

One: As leaders of The Cavalier Daily’s literary, digital and financial operations, how could we produce the best paper imaginable, given our resources; and what could we do to give Charlottesville’s oldest newspaper a secure intellectual and financial footing for the future?

Two: Was it possible, in 2013, to edit, publish and finance a student newspaper?

And (perhaps) three: Was it possible for us, specifically, to do so?

The first question we all expected. It was what we’d signed up for. We were brimming with ideas. Some were realized; others were not. Ideas we executed included the design of a twice-a-week newsmagazine to supplement our daily online content, the development of a daily e-newsletter, the creation of a mobile application and twice-a-week brainstorming sessions that brought together our staff.

The second question had flitted across our minds before we took office. These days, even the most established newspapers face the risk that their existence will become impossible — that the money, already dancing away, will disappear offstage entirely, and that the writers, editors, photographers, techies, business managers, and everyone else the paper relies on for survival will follow.

Journalism’s hostile economic climate is well-known, but the question of possibility, for us, was about more than the money. The Cavalier Daily is a home for “student journalism.” But could students — bright, principled and curious; but also overcommitted, with shallow knowledge and negligible savvy — still “do” journalism? Could they nudge sources, look up statistics, lay out pages, pay bills? And could they do it every day?

Which brought us to the brink of question three: even if student journalism was still possible, was it possible for us?

We never asked this question out loud. We reserved it for the times when we had our heads in our hands at 4 a.m. in the basement of Newcomb, when we found ourselves up against a story we weren’t sure we could crack, when we realized, again and again, that some of our most difficult decisions on the newspaper were not financial or pragmatic but rather ethical and highly personal.

Now, nearly 140 print and online issues later — this edition, which you hold in your hands, is the 80th print edition we’ve produced in our term — the possibility of student journalism, for us and in general, seems to have held.

The rhetoric of “love” in work is drilled into most Americans from a young age: “Do what you love.” But doing what you love sometimes sets you up to be exploited. If people are doing what they love, whether they’re schoolteachers, journalists or designers, why pay them?

It wouldn’t be too much to say we loved our work on The Cavalier Daily. For us, salaries were never a question. We came back to the office night after night because we believed something important and unusual was happening there.

We were right. It was that rare thing: the possible made real.


Published January 22, 2014 in Opinion









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