The lights went out at 4015 Walnut a little way into Sunday production on April 7, 2019. In case a billion other senior columns don’t end up telling you this, our office doesn’t have windows — but to be fair, it was past sunset anyway. The bulbs flickered a few times, on, off, on …? No, off, and then they stayed off. I was a Design editor at the time: Sports and Opinion.
My pupils expanded in the sudden dark, and I could see that almost nobody had moved. Gillian Diebold was sitting next to me in another desk chair, cross-legged, her phone screen dusting her face with blue light. And then Jess Tan returned from the Morgue with a family-size bag of barbecue Lays. That was good; I like snacks. I chewed the chips slowly, now horizontal on the Design couch. I could see Annabelle Williams’ tall silhouette move behind the Design computers, past Sarah Fortinsky’s office, past the Audience Engagement office, melting into the hallway like a shadow.
The power was back on by 10:30 p.m., so the blackout was more of a hoot than an emergency. Real emergency hit later. We’re still in it, but I have little left to say about leading Street during the pandemic. There is a different point to make.
I am a part of The Daily Pennsylvanian's history, which is wonderful. I am proud to have led Street and I am grateful for being given the opportunity to do so. It taught me more than I thought I could ever learn. These sentiments are rooted in the camaraderie and relationships fostered by our common goal, connections I will treasure long past the day when I realize I’ve forgotten the front door code and can’t remember the name of the fish in the Stroffice anymore.
But I will remain a part of DP history, which is problematic.
When the DP first ensnares you, you feel chosen. It is a privilege to work nine-hour shifts after a full day of classes, assignments, part-time jobs, and other clubs. My seven-semester stint set no working hours and paid me in Zesto’s and experience. Only a few of us remain in the office once the files for tomorrow’s issue go out to the printer — DP gremlins, I think, was our pre-pandemic term. I wore dark under-eye circles like medals of honor to my courses the next day, even though I had to consciously stop myself from keeping my eyes shut too long when I blinked.
I want to lie and say that I am too soft, and that was why I couldn’t stand the heat of what, by definition, was a mere extracurricular. In truth, the DP became me, and it became all of us. That is not something we should be proud of. It was a choice. I didn’t make it alone. But it’s not supposed to be about us.
The DP is no tautology. We don’t exist for our own sake, to elect another board, to start again, to preserve the environment that made us leaders. That’s a self-serving attitude. Not everyone takes the same path. The sample size of students left standing, who hold elections and write these senior columns, is skewed. It’s not about us.
Our massive and relatively prestigious platform should faithfully provide relevant and factual information to a community that is exponentially larger than any DP board. If we want to use this platform correctly, if we really want to commit to inclusive coverage and fair journalism practices, we can’t cling to the unsustainable simply because it was there when we arrived.
I can see progress happening now, from the sort of distance that a graduating senior has, and I have full faith in the 137th Board, and the 138th, and the 139th, and the rest, to see this project through — because the 134th Board had faith in me, and the 135th, and the 136th. This is a beautiful thing about the DP: Trust and accountability are institutionalized. There are so many other beautiful things — I wish I could list them, but I respect the sanctity of an inch count.
“Power outage on Walnut Street hits approx. 1,000 students and locals Sunday evening.” Manlu Liu ended up with the article byline, and a bunch of us, sequestered in our second-story cave, shared it on Facebook. Sage Levine’s caption was my favorite: “The DP dies in darkness.” I loved the reference.
But the DP did not really die in darkness. (How could a dead newspaper write an article about its own demise?) Lights go off in the office — no matter. We are journalists with an internet connection; we must write about what happens. And our stories are never about us.
TAMSYN BRANN is a graduating College senior studying science, technology, and society from Hartsdale, N.Y. She served as 34th Street's editor-in-chief on the 136th Board of Editors and Managers and as a Design editor on the 135th Board.
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