The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday October 20th

Column: The student journalist experience

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It’s 1:30 a.m. in The Daily Tar Heel office. University Editor Maeve Sheehey is waiting for the last story to come in while simultaneously studying for her history exam the next day. 

Co-Photo Editor Maya Carter is making sure that Dustin Duong, assistant photo editor, remembered to eat dinner. He just got back from shooting photos of Student Body President-Elect Reeves Moseley in the moment in which he learned he’d won the election. 

It’s hardly different than any other night here at The Daily Tar Heel, where editors and staff work around the clock to do a job that is almost never easy. 

It’s an experience we share with thousands of student journalists across the country, who consistently produce high-quality news under challenging circumstances.

I think of the Niner Times, UNC Charlotte’s student newspaper, whose staff displayed extraordinary courage when a fatal shooting occurred on their campus. Though one of their own was in critical condition, the Niner Times staff kept reporting, even on their last day of class. Many were still on lockdown, so they reported mostly from their phones.

It’s easy for people to view our lives as a dichotomy — some see us as students, others see us as journalists. But very few see us as both. 

We’re still learning. And we’re going to make mistakes. That doesn’t mean we should be held any less accountable for our actions, but we do deserve a little sensitivity. 

I think, too, of The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper at Northwestern University, who apologized for publishing photographs and names of student protesters and using phone numbers listed in the student directory to solicit interviews in its coverage of a protest. Professional journalists heavily criticized The Daily’s staff, even going as far as to say they wouldn’t hire any of them, that they feared for the future of journalism.

The job is never easy. And sometimes, it’s downright scary. The Daily Tar Heel’s staffers receive mean emails, hateful comments and threats. It’s something that’s really hard to get used to — especially when you’re 20. 

There’s no financial incentive to be a student journalist. It’s a job for which we receive almost no compensation or reward. It requires juggling what’s oftentimes a full-time job with classes, internship and job applications, relationships, a social life — and things like homework, food and sleep are sacrifices that are too often made.

We do it because we love it, despite the many, many headaches it causes. Because we value The Daily Tar Heel’s role as a bulwark of truth in the Chapel Hill community and beyond. 

And, mind you, The Daily Tar Heel doesn’t stop. Not in the middle of Hurricane Florence, when the University released messages between administrators from the night Silent Sam was pulled down. Not even during finals, when the BOG announced the $2.5 million dollar settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. In fact, many have argued the settlement wouldn’t have fallen through if it weren’t for the fantastic watchdog reporting of journalists at The Daily Tar Heel.

We are students. And we’re also journalists. The ways in which these identities converge are uniquely and joyously difficult, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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