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The Daily Tar Heel

Farewell Column: Advice to Future DTHers

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Lucas Thomae Assistant Sports Editor

I never liked farewell columns when I was at The Daily Tar Heel. They always seemed too self indulgent — no offense to my wonderful peers that have written plenty of these over the years — considering that most of our readers don’t know or care about who is producing the news they read.

It seems doubly offensive that I’m writing one of these even after I left the newsroom at the end of last semester. Nevertheless, my dear friend Liv Reilly asked me to write a column, so I agreed to do it.

I want to spend as little time talking about myself as possible, so I decided to write something that I wish I had read when I was a first-year at UNC thinking about a career in journalism: advice for future writers and editors at The DTH.

First, know that The Daily Tar Heel needs — and wants — you.

For as crusty of an institution that this 131-year-old newspaper appears to be, new faces with fresh ideas are what keep this newsroom going. Never think that you aren’t smart enough, talented enough or dedicated enough to work here. You are. And we need you.

For writers:

Talking to strangers is nerve-wracking. Just do it. Walk up to them with a smile and shake their hand. You can usually get pretty far that way.

When you talk to people for a story, listen. Conversate, don’t interrogate. Have empathy. Be interested. Let their answers guide your questions, not the other way around.

Don’t take the easy way out. Be curious. Make the extra call and send one last email even when you don’t feel like it.

Writing is hard. Don’t make it harder on yourself through procrastination. Sit down with your laptop well ahead of deadline and just spew words. Several pages of crap is a whole lot easier to work with than a blank screen.

If you're still struggling to write, start in the middle and figure out your lede later. Decide what your story is about and describe it in two sentences or less. Put that at the top of your document in bold and let it guide the rest of your story.

Sometimes your editor will heavily change your draft, or send you back to do more reporting or kill the story altogether. You are not a failure, nor does your editor hate you. They are just doing their job. Ask questions and build a working relationship with them.

Pitch ideas for a story — don’t just wait around for an assignment. Be an active part of the newsroom and learn from your editors. One day you might be the person to replace them.

For editors:

You were once a writer who had no clue what they were doing. Keep that in mind when you are in charge of 30+ writers who have no clue what they are doing.

Learn from the generations of student journalists that came before you. Dig into the newspaper archives. Email some DTH alumni. They’ll be happy to help you out.

Just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the way it should be. If you don’t like the way your desk operates, then change it.

Don’t produce lots of mediocre journalism to fill a story quota. Put your efforts into stories that our readership wants and needs.

Our work is collaborative. The photographer, the designer and the data staffer are just as integral to our work as your writers. Treat them with respect and dignity.

Go to class. Seriously.

When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep. When you are angry, sad or both, then go outside and take a breath of fresh air.

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This job should be fun, or at least gratifying. If you don’t feel either of those things, then figure out what makes you feel that way and do that instead.

I can’t get away with writing this column without acknowledging all the people I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside for the past four years. Here are my thanks to just a few of them.

Hunter, you proved to me that work can be fun.

Shelby, Gwen and Daniel — you’ve shown me that the future of sportswriting at The DTH is young, hard-nosed and ambitious.

Emmy, I’ll always be appreciative of that one crazy summer. We never would have produced anything worth a damn if you hadn’t been there.

Liv, you keep me sane.

Courtney, you put unwarranted faith in me early on in my career, and I’m so grateful for that. You gave me the confidence to get out of my comfort zone and try something that wasn’t sportswriting.

Everyone else, I love you too. Keep raising hell and printing news.

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com


Lucas Thomae

Lucas Thomae is the 2023-24 sports managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as an assistant sports editor and summer editor. Lucas is a senior pursuing a major in journalism and media with a minor in data science.