PARTING SHOT: To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield
In many ways, writing this is an exercise in futility.
For one, no one will read this. Or, more accurately, so few people will read this that Nate Silver would probably call them statistically irrelevant. Believe me — after a year as Managing Editor, and another as Assistant Managing Editor, I’m all too familiar with the number of page views that articles like this receive.
For another, the whole concept of parting shots reeks of the “selfie generation” and the media’s self-importance — life has not happened if we have not personally documented it.
Not to mention the personal toll this may exact. Even on its best days, journalism is a demanding enterprise. It carries the weight of democracy on its back, and requires its practitioners to steep themselves in varying quantities of caffeine, alcohol and cynicism. Dipping my toe back into that pool seems much like King Lear standing on the heath and daring the heavens to do their worst. For like Lear, I too am a has-been. The trials of my position have left me battered, bitter and a little less sane — have I any business tempting fate?
And yet, I write.
Take that sentence, replace “write” with a host of other verbs — edit, report, design, brainstorm, direct, pacify, create, innovate, champion — and you have distilled my tenure at The Cavalier Daily into four words. In the face of adversity, we persist.
I’ve said that on its good days, journalism is a demanding profession. On its bad ones, “demanding” becomes “draining,” and the weight of the truth on our backs seems like more like an overweight parasite gorging itself on our flesh than a sacred protectorate we carry to the community.
It would have been adversity enough to simply try to make the good days at the office outnumber the bad. But my time at the University coincided with one of crisis for the paper. We’ve all heard the now exhausted adage that print journalism is dying; The Cavalier Daily was never immune. Plummeting revenue and an unsustainable focus on an increasingly irrelevant print product threatened the paper’s very existence.
In the face of this adversity, our managing board directed one of the most significant institutional changes in this newspaper’s memory. We cut print production to a twice-weekly newsmagazine, took steps to becoming a digital-first newsroom, and restructured the way we produce news. It may not have made us beloved, but thanks to the efforts of the 124th managing and junior boards, The Cavalier Daily persists.
While making sure The Cavalier Daily lived to see another day, I saw enough 3 a.m. nights in the office to ask myself the questions my family and friends asked of me: Why? Why persist in this Sisyphus-like endeavor? Why beat your head against a wall only to go home, sleep five hours, and return to the same wall the next day with an already aching head?
I persist because even the worst failures of journalism cannot entirely kill the hope that Woodward, Bernstein, Sinclair and others instilled in an idealistic high-schooler — pick off the scab concealing a festering injustice, and the scourge will be washed clean.
I persist out of sheer tenacity. My parents may have bemoaned my stubbornness as a child — Who am I kidding? It irks them to this day — but that obstinate refusal to compromise my ideals has been the fuel behind each laborious step forward. I will not be defeated by sleep deprivation, stonewalling sources or any metaphorical storm the heavens rain down. I will not be defeated.
I persist because I owe it to the family I have built at The Cavalier Daily. Like most journalists, they are prone to cynicism and armed with an acerbic wit. Come to our offices in the basement of Newcomb expecting angels pure-of-soul, and you will be as disappointed as Saint Peter taking a vacation to another subterranean locale. Like the imps they are, they have taught me to delight in revelry and laugh in the face of absurdity.
But these blackened exteriors serve only to throw their brilliant cores into sharper relief. They are brimming with innovative ideas and, more importantly, the willpower to realize them. Their passion has astounded me, thrilled me with the hope that good men will not stand idly by and allow evil to triumph. By being their best selves, they have emboldened me to be mine.
I persist because not doing so would be a disservice to The Cavalier Daily, the University community, and all those who will be a member of either in the future. For it is not only in the classroom that we must courageously “follow truth wherever it may lead,” but in the world around us too.
I persist because we are not Sisyphus. The boulder may roll back down the mountain in our absence — it may even roll farther down than it was yesterday morning —– but zoom out, and it is always slowly, almost imperceptibly, being forced forward.
I persist because I know no other way.
If that last sentence is not indication enough, I’ll be blunt: there is no heartwarming message to be gleaned from this parting shot. Like The Cavalier Daily, its staffers, journalism, and life itself, there is simply the bittersweet reality. Each day we struggle — some more than others. Each day, we search for reasons to continue to fight a seemingly never-ending battle. Each day, we confront the forces that would spell our demise.
And yet, we persist. Occasionally, we thrive.
Caroline Houck was The Cavalier Daily’s 124th Managing Editor.