My grandparents were expert storytellers. I must have heard some of their anecdotes thousands of times and even now I still want to hear them over again. Part of this was because they knew how to capture an audience, how to make you feel like you had lived the moments they were describing with them. And part of it was because their stories were inherently interesting; they lived through nearly 100 years of world history and naturally had a lot to say.
I grew up eager to emulate their example. Desperate for my own experiences, when it came time to go to college I left my comfortable, liberal Northeastern bubble and ventured South, in search of a challenge — in search of some unique story to tell.
It was with that goal in mind that I walked into the Cavalier Daily office in the first semester of my first year, nervous and excited to have a precious 800 words every week just to share my thoughts. But in the fall of 2013, I hadn’t quite figured out what I wanted to say. My column became a training ground, a place to throw my ideas out into the world of the Internet and see what stuck. My editors quickly became mentors, constantly steering my arguments in the right direction if I veered off course. I was lucky that they didn’t hold back, that they challenged me to think critically and really do my research — and that, no matter what the Internet comments said, their support never wavered.
And with that support, by my second year I found myself deeply involved in the paper in a way I hadn’t anticipated. With the urgency of that year, writing took on a new meaning for me. As I felt parts of our community unravel, I saw where I could have my deepest impact. I learned how to understand others’ stories, how to relate to them even when they were so different from my own. As I learned more about my peers, whether I had an interesting story myself became less important, because I had a chance to share someone else’s. For me, that became the point of the paper: to challenge readers to better understand one another. At times we succeeded in doing this and at other times we didn’t, but that was always the goal, even when we came up short.
When we did miss the mark, we would agonize over how to do better — because we knew that journalism, when done the right way, does good in the world. The struggle is in determining how, exactly, to do journalism the right way. There are plenty of examples of how not to do it. But right now student reporters don’t have clear role models. Today even the facts are up for debate; objective reporting has become inherently politicized. And when the experts come into doubt, who are student journalists supposed to turn to in the pursuit of true and balanced reporting and the free exchange of ideas?
After spending so many nights in the basement of Newcomb with some truly incredible people, I’m confident that if we can’t find role models out there to show us how to cover what matters, we can set the standard ourselves, as reporters and readers. I urge readers both to hold the paper accountable and acknowledge good work when they see it. The relationship between writer and reader is a two-way street; remember that we often get the news we ask for. It’s on the reporter to do her job well — it’s on you to recognize it when she does.
To the now-alums who welcomed me into this intimidating operation, thank you for making me a better writer, editor and more thoughtful person. To a staff that trusted me first to voice the stance of this paper — one of my proudest contributions — and then gave me a chance at its helm, I am forever indebted to you. And to the immensely talented people who are taking up the challenge of running the paper this year and in the years that follow, I’m so proud of the work you’ve done and can’t wait to see what else you will do.
My grandparents didn’t live to see any of the articles I wrote. In their absence, I looked to others to guide me in my search for the right stories and the right way to tell them. I was so lucky to find those people here. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for getting to partake in the vibrant, frustrating, smart and complex community that makes up this paper and the small world we cover — a group that’s given me me so many stories to tell.
Dani Bernstein was the 126th Executive Editor and the 127th Editor-in-Chief of The Cavalier Daily.