The first two times I watched Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch,” I got awfully close to crying at the end when all the staffers assembled to write the editor’s obituary. I certainly at least teared up at this scene — not because of the film’s own emotional stakes, but rather because it made me think of my own newsroom experience as an editor at The Daily Princetonian.
I joined the ‘Prince’ as a freshman on a whim of sorts, without any real intention beyond trying something for the sake of trying things as college freshmen are encouraged to do. I began writing for the arts and culture section — named The Prospect after Prospect Avenue. This was the fall of 2019, the last normal semester before the COVID-19 pandemic would take over our lives.
Truthfully, by the time the spring semester came around, I was more than ready to quit and try something else. I enjoyed writing, but it didn’t fulfill any sense of purpose. I didn’t see much value in the work I was doing. But with the spring semester also came a new Editor-in-Chief and new managing editors — one of whom set out on a mission to revitalize The Prospect.
So, I decided to stick around for one more semester. We had big plans to review as many performances on campus as possible, to record as much of the Princeton students’ lives as we could, and to write enough to earn a page or two in the daily print issues since the section was a digital-only feature back then.
But as we all know, we had to let go of so many of our goals and dreams in mid-March of 2020.
However, in those same moments of losing life as we knew and expected it, I now also see moments in which new possibilities opened up, moments that let us remake ourselves.
On March 11, 2020, the University administration told us to pack up our dorms, say goodbye to our friends, and go home for the remainder of the spring semester. It was an announcement preceded by canceled or postponed midterm exams and shifting guidance for the return from the approaching spring break. And all the confusion and frustration surrounding these developments pushed me to write what I now consider my true arrival at this paper.
I sat in the basement of the Julis Romo Rabinowitz building and wrote what we here call a Self essay, sharing my own perspective on that week and how I was pushing through it, hoping it would help a few other students push through as well. Amidst saying so many goodbyes — to friends, to a campus, to a life of my own — I somehow managed, fairly impulsively rather than intentionally, to welcome a new adventure and a soon-to-be-discovered new love as well.
I remember writing with an urgency that’s only possible when the world seems like it’s falling apart, as if some end were near. I poured out every emotion, every relevant memory I could muster that day — without much thought at all, simply following my heart and all its hopes and anxieties.
And then the day passed. I packed up my dorm room. My essay was edited and published. I flew back home to Cincinnati. I cried and threw up my 20th birthday cake from the stress of that week. And then messages started trickling in.
I heard from people I otherwise would’ve never met: people who said they could relate to what I wrote, who found it comforting, who offered compliments. Something clicked inside me during those days while reading those messages.
I haven’t stopped writing since, though my urgency to write is now derived from a greater sense of purpose: a love for capturing my slice of Princeton, of the world, and sharing it with the hope of enriching our little community. And there’s also an urgency to hold onto this life before it slips away.
Writing these essays has enriched my own life. It has gifted me the community of a college newsroom. However, given the University’s initial COVID-19 strategy, we were without our actual newsroom for just about 18 months — instead writing and editing and publishing over shared documents, Slack channels, and Zoom calls.
In those months, I sat in my childhood bedroom, and I learned how to write my own voice, how to fail and grow when I first became an editor, and how to handle people’s stories with as much compassion as exactness. I made so many new friends even as pandemic-provoked isolation drove me down a spiral. I became more sure of myself, gaining the confidence to write about things that once terrified me. And I got to see so many others do the same. This all brought us together, on one journey to tell the stories of our community, in a way I had thought would be impossible to do without our newsroom.
And then, finally, I got to step back into the ‘Prince’ newsroom the fall of 2021, as an Associate (soon-to-be Head) Editor for The Prospect instead of a bashful new writer. If I had found some love and support and connection in our virtual newsroom while we persevered through those darkest months, then the return to our newsroom on University Place let me see all those things flourish.
There are an endless number of vignettes I could write about love in this college newsroom.
There is the love in taking a new writer’s first words and helping them create a story that moves you and fills you with a beaming editor’s pride drawn from your own memories of first starting out at this paper.
There is the love in the copy editors who take your work and elevate it with their deft adjustments — slicing and restitching our sentences to save us from the embarrassment of a typo or worse.
There is the love in cheering each other on for our successes: the publication of a difficult investigation, the runaway popularity of an article that gets mentioned all over social media or by bigger voices at bigger publications, or even just the short emails from important community members and kind strangers alike.
And of course, at the end of the day, there is the love that arises because we are human.
It could be the friendly shoulder to cry on after a difficult day or week or month — regardless of whether the provocation is the stress of a student journalist’s work or the stress of the Princeton experience or, sometimes, the stress of simply being twenty-something and trying to figure it all out.
It could be the shenanigans that are bound to arise when you put a bunch of college students together — ridiculous jokes told, a constant stream of verbatims poking fun at each other, movie nights, and so much more.
And it could be, simply, the invigorating energy that exists in a newsroom full of people in a chaotic yet somehow still rather synchronized jumble of work and play: Editors and writers buzzing around between tables, brimming with story ideas big and small alike, hovering over each other’s computers to carefully shape each and every article, to curate a buzz-worthy social media post, or to perfect every page of our now-weekly print issues — everyone contributing to a beautiful symphony that arrives at the “Publish” button.
Not every single moment in a college newsroom is so idyllic, of course. There are difficult moments: tensions can fester, disagreements can erupt, and mistakes are bound to happen. But that sort of thing is true about pretty much any sort of love. It won’t be perfect. It takes work. But it shouldn’t be given up on.
For me, I’ve found that it is the joy underlying all these moments I’ve mentioned that has kept me pushing past any difficulties. It’s the joy of loving who you are and what you do and who you do it with. This is a joy that could describe a romantic relationship, but that I find can be just as beautiful, if not more, when describing the collective effort it takes to bring these words to you.
As my junior year went on and passed, I often wondered if I so often noticed this love and this joy in the newsroom more than I might have in previous years. I wondered if it stood out because of its contrast to the loneliness and isolation imposed upon us all at the beginning of a pandemic existence.
Regardless, now that I have noticed it, now that as a senior I will soon see it fade into the past, I’m so happy, so grateful, that it’s taken up space in my life. I’m grateful I decided to stick around for another semester that has since turned into another couple years. And I’m grateful for that one early essay I wrote the day Princeton sent us students home. It all has brought so much love and so much joy into my life.
Truthfully, there are few places in my life where I’ve been able to go, spend some time working or lounging about, and then so consistently walk out the door with a satisfied, fortunate smile.
But, I can say that about this college newsroom — my newsroom.
In fact, I finished first drafting this essay only after a joy-filled walk back from a Sunday masthead meeting where if we all dressed a tad more eccentrically and if our newsroom were a tad more symmetrically arranged, the masthead meeting could have looked just like that final scene from “The French Dispatch.” Though we were not part of any film that Sunday afternoon, we still had the same love in telling the stories of ourselves and of our community that almost brought me to tears when I watched the film.
Now that I have to largely say goodbye to such scenes filling my own life and walk out the newsroom door for the last time as an editor, I’ll look back on days like that Sunday. I’ll look back at my last masthead meeting that was full of kind, loving words for each other, and I very well might cry the way love and joy make one cry.
At the very least, unlike in the film, our newsroom at 48 University Place fortunately doesn’t have a “No Crying” sign above the door — the one now closing behind me as I say goodbye to this place, to this editor life, to this love in the ‘Prince’ newsroom.
José Pablo Fernández García is a senior from Ohio and can be reached at jpgarcia[at]princeton.edu. This is his last Self essay as an editor for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect[at]dailyprincetonian.com.