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The Daily Tar Heel

Farewell Column: My complicated relationship with the DTH

opinion-heidi-farewell-column
Former Daily Tar Heel Managing Editor Heidi Pérez-Moreno poses for a portrait in April 2023. Photo Courtesy of Ira Wilder.

Around this time last year, I remember waiting until every last staff member left the newsroom before I let myself exhale the tears I’d been swallowing under my breath.

I found out hours prior that my need-based aid had been rejected for the upcoming academic year. My mom sold a majority of her retirement funds to pay rent and bills back home, which was reflected in our income on my financial aid applications. FAFSA assumed I had the funds to pay for my last year of school.

So, I felt powerless and alone. 

At UNC, I’d grown used to being surrounded by students with stable families and income who didn’t worry about their finances in the same way I did. I didn’t want to bring in my own family and financial troubles into the newsroom, so I stayed quiet.

The very structure of The Daily Tar Heel makes it hard to actually be part of this newsroom if you don’t have the financial stability to handle below-average pay for the sake of altruistic, hard-earned journalism experience. I can count on one hand the amount of DTH editors over my two years that could relate.

It makes being second-in-command at a prestigious student newsroom all that much more lonesome. I quickly came to terms with how foreign this newsroom felt to me and the amount of cognition and sheer willpower I needed to hold on. And it’s made writing this column all the more painful.

The truth is, I’ve contemplated quitting the DTH, or even dropping out of UNC, several times.

I joined the newsroom in the middle of the pandemic. As a work-study student, reporter and editor, I’ve spent more days, nights and weekends here than I ever could imagine, and made some of the fondest, sweetest memories that make my heart well up with joy. 

But, even then, it’s hard to avoid awkward lulls in conversations when I mention I was part of the DTH.

I’d hear experiences where students couldn’t handle the newsroom on top of multiple jobs, felt excluded by staffers and editors, were referred to as the DTH’s janitor when it was their turn to take out the trash, had their grammar or verbiage corrected on the basis of a supposed language barrier or have just been disappointed in the DTH’s coverage of historically underrepresented groups altogether. I could go on.

I left the newsroom last spring, mentally frozen and disheartened by burnout that had accumulated over previous months. Now, I’m president of the Student Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at UNC, and as the months go on, I’ve heard more and more instances where staffers and former editors feel the same.

Spaces like the DTH have been lauded for centuries as places to build relationships and meet other reporters, but they left out one tidbit. It’s tied to an already predominantly white institution, and therefore making a career in this space isn’t so seamless if you’re not white and affluent. 

If someone asks me whether they should apply to the DTH, I usually give some version of the same disclaimer. It’s a place where you could launch your journalism career, be part of some incredible and impactful work and meet some of your closest friends. But, it’s not for the faint of heart, especially as you go up in ranks.

I’ve seen many of the papers that I helped create pinned on offices and spaces across UNC, in people’s bedrooms, museum exhibitions and even hanging around the top of the UNC Bell Tower. I’ve seen lines from down the block for copies of our newspapers. 

I’ve seen the stamina needed to do this work, sometimes under a day's time, to wrap up a special edition newspaper on top of a regular print schedule. So, while I have my reservations about the DTH, this newsroom has made me stronger than I ever thought I could be.

I’ve learned there isn’t one single way to do college; as a first-generation student, it’s hard not to beat yourself up when you don’t meet the expectations of the reference point you’ve built up for how you think college should be.

This paper taught me that making mistakes, and so-called “failure,” is not a death sentence. And so, I’m immensely grateful for the people that have stood by my side while I’ve figured it out.

I want to thank Courtney Mitchell, who has never failed to remind me of my worth. My best friend, Caitlyn Yaede, for showing me the beauty and bad b---- energy of being such an independent spirit. You’ve never failed to make me laugh — sometimes to the point of tears – and I’m so grateful to know you exist and are working in journalism.

I want to thank Sam Garzon, one of the funniest and most-Pisces people I know. Thank you for being the reason I don’t hate the DTH supply closet. Lilly Egan, for bringing so much warmth and compassion into this world. Thank you for never turning down brunch at Carolina Coffee Shop or lunch at TRU. PJ Morales, thank you for being my first DTH friend, and for growing up alongside me.

It’s an experience that I honestly couldn't ever forget. 

@dthopinion

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