By Maegan Clearwood
The American Collegiate Press conference marked my first visit to the West Coast. Although the two-hour time difference knocked me into a coma, the Seattle coffee and sharp coastal winds perked me right back up, and I managed to have one of the most invigorating weekends of my life.
I’m writing this Seattle report on the plane back to Baltimore. I’m still giddy from the experience, and it wasn’t just the people and coffee that enticed me. The plane is coasting over white mountain peaks and patchwork cities, but I don’t feel tiny at all.
Sure, I’m just a news editor for a small weekly newspaper that caters to a tiny waterfront town and even tinier private college. It’s easy to feel like my career as a journalist doesn’t really matter. No matter how many slip-ups or political jabs we make each issue, response from our readers is rare; we see students and faculty flipping through the Elm every Friday, but it’s hard to convince myself that I’m making a difference when all they talk about is the public urination incident in the last PS report. Working for a small college publication can be disillusioning, and it’s easy to forget why I fell in love with the art of reporting in the first place.
After a weekend with other frustrated editors and news-junkies, my love for journalism, and for The Elm, blossomed again.
Contrary to popular belief, Chestertown isn’t the only tiny college town in America. I met scads of students from even smaller private schools hailing as far as Florida and California. Some of these schools have to not only put up with an apathetic student body, but narrow-minded faculty and staff as well (and let me just say, I am eternally grateful that I do not edit for a paper on a religiously affiliated campus). We’re not the only newspaper staff that thrives without a journalism or communications major, nor are we the only one that sometimes feels unappreciated or ignored. Some of the newspapers we saw came out weekly or daily, others biweekly, monthly, or whenever their editors felt like it; there were tabloid-sized papers and broadsheet-sized papers; some had the budget for full color issues, while others couldn’t even print more than a slim, grayscale eight-pager.
Sometimes, on particularly grueling Wednesday layout nights, it feels like it’s the Publications House versus the world. We struggle week after week to compose well-researched, compelling articles, schedule interviews with reluctant faculty and students, and stay awake during class while our eyes are still aching from staring at an inDesign page all night. But we’re not alone.
The Elm isn’t the only newspaper that flourishes in the face of diversity. At the conference, there were two tables overflowing with newspapers from across the country, each of which took countless hours of interviews, editing, and layout to create.
It’s easy to forget about the world across the Chester River, and that doesn’t just go for us student journalists. All of us have felt alone on this tiny campus at some time or another, like we’re the only liberal arts college that grapples with fee increases and seemingly unfair policy changes.
We’re actually part of a giant ecosystem of colleges, each with its own controversies and traditions. Chestertown may not boast America’s original monopolizing coffee chain or a geodesic library, but we have Play It Again Sam and Miller Library, and they have stories to tell, too.
When Tim and I arranged our single extra Elm atop the tower of other newspapers this weekend, we remembered why we do what we do. We’re giving Washington College a voice. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but people certainly listen.