The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

PARTING SHOT: Where the seeds of transformational change sprout

<p>Nik Popli was The Cavalier Daily’s 131st Editor-in-Chief and 130th News Editor. Prior to this, he was a News Writer and Associate Editor for the 128th and 129th terms.</p>

Nik Popli was The Cavalier Daily’s 131st Editor-in-Chief and 130th News Editor. Prior to this, he was a News Writer and Associate Editor for the 128th and 129th terms.

When I look back at my experience as a U.Va. student and as the 131st Editor-in-Chief of The Cavalier Daily, more than anything I think of my time in the CD newsroom because it reminds me of all the storylines I pursued and the incredible community that bound our staff together. Once you get beyond the general mess of the office — it has, after all, been passed down by generations of college students — you realize that it is truly an extraordinary place where the seeds of transformational change sprout. 

From where we sit in the basement of Newcomb Hall, U.Va. looks a little different than it does to most students. As Cavalier Daily journalists, we often see the University not for the qualities that attracted us here as eager first years, but rather as a series of questions to be answered and stories to be told. We see the beauty of the academical village, but we also see the darkness and feel a need to shine a light on these truths.

The past four years have proven that there is no more fascinating and important time to be a student journalist. At its best, journalism is about elucidating ideas, protecting them from erasure and enabling others to use these ideas in ways that help them make informed decisions. It’s about doing our due diligence to read between the lines and amplify voices that have been historically and systemically silenced. This was the central motivating force behind my tenure as editor-in-chief.

But the day U.Va. asked all students to stay at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized that our newsroom may never be the same. Perhaps the most important thing I learned in this moment is to always be prepared for the unexpected. 

Several people have since asked me what it was like to be the editor of the newspaper during the pandemic. While I truly enjoyed the experience of connecting and engaging our community, my answer usually involves the incredible weight I felt on my shoulders as a 20-year-old tasked with adapting the paper’s financial, operational and editorial affairs amidst the unexpected challenges thrown our way. It was a long and arduous journey, but the positive change we created in our community made it all worth it.

I’ll never forget returning to the empty office, alone, for the last time before the University closed in the spring wondering when we’ll be able to return. I’ll never forget how we printed our first newspaper from our childhood bedrooms, laughing together on Zoom from across the country at 2 a.m. instead of while eating Cookout in the office together. I’ll never forget making the decision to completely restructure our business strategy to reduce dependence on print advertising revenue, and subsequently launching a website redesign to bolster our transition to a digital-first media organization.

And most importantly, I’ll never forget the resiliency of our staff for continuing to produce hard-hitting news stories, in-depth features and opinion commentary during our time away from Grounds in the spring of 2020. I was so proud of our ability to quickly adapt and transform our formerly buzzing newsroom into a virtual work environment where we continuously came up with original ideas for our COVID-19 coverage — breaking the news about virus outbreaks within student housing and highlighting the stressful college experience we all shared, from internet inequities to challenges facing international students.

I will always cherish my time as editor-in-chief because it gave me the chance to make a genuine difference in our community and use our platform for the greater good. Our reporting on Aramark employees being laid off by the University without severance due to the pandemic helped prompt the administration to create an emergency fund that supported employees during a time of need. Our reporters were also on the front lines reporting on the Black Lives Matter protests throughout the summer in Charlottesville and highlighted the need for social equity and racial justice reforms, uplifting voices from marginalized communities.

The years I spent as editor-in-chief and news editor of this 131-year-old student newspaper were the most enriching parts of my collegiate life, and it’s amazing to think about how different I am today from the person who walked into the CD newsroom in the fall of 2017. That was hundreds of articles ago, before I met many of my closest U.Va. friends and — with all due respect to my professors — where I learned most of what I did in college.

To the 131st staff: thank you for your hard work and thank you for trusting me. While we were faced with numerous unexpected challenges this year, I could not be prouder of you all for persisting through everything we faced by producing incredible journalism. And while our intramural basketball season didn’t end as planned, thank you all for helping to create an environment of unconditional love and support.

To our readers: I know that sometimes you just open the paper for the crossword, but there are few things as satisfying for a writer than arriving at a morning class and seeing someone read a story you worked on. So thank you for your support, emails and, yes, even the Facebook comments. Keep holding the paper accountable and pushing it forward.

I know the newsroom where I spent so much time will be buzzing with in-person activities again soon. And while I couldn’t have expected many of the challenges thrown my way, I am grateful to the University community for standing with The Cavalier Daily as we continued to shine a light on the need for progress and change in our community of student self-governance.

Nik Popli was The Cavalier Daily’s 131st Editor-in-Chief and 130th News Editor. Prior to this, he was a News Writer and Associate Editor for the 128th and 129th terms.


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