I arrived at The Daily Nebraskan newsroom on Sunday to find Josh Kelly standing in the doorway of my office wearing a black button-up, black pants, black shoes, a navy sport coat and a pre-tied red necktie. Some song by Rob Thomas blared from a speaker behind him.
He was smiling. Beaming, really.
Apparently, his first act as editor-in-chief of The Daily Nebraskan for a day was to corrupt my office with adult contemporary rock.
“Hey boss,” I said.
Here’s a little bit of context: Last semester, I made a bet with Josh, the sports editor, that if we got 1 million views on our website for the semester, I’d give him my job for the day.
I thought 1 million would be insane, because it would be nearly double our traffic from the previous semester.
But I was wrong. We reached 1 million, and my punishment for not believing my staff was to give someone else the job.
So while Josh ran the newsroom for a night, I decided to view the newsroom through a lens I never can as editor-in-chief: a wallflower.
A lot of my day is usually spent in my office doing a variety of random things for the paper. So my goal last night was simple: sit back, shut up and watch the newsroom. What could I learn about the paper and the people that work for it by not being editor-in-chief?
The night began with Josh playing Rob Thomas in my office, while I quietly found a spot to sit and watch the newsroom beat along to someone else’s drum.
Josh’s first true test as editor-in-chief would be making the 5:30 budget meeting. Every night – at exactly 5:30 – the senior editors meet to go over content in the paper and online the next day.
The second 5:30 hits, Lani, the online news editor, is usually in my ear barking that it’s 5:30, and every second we’re not in budget, we’re late and Chris when are we meeting for budget Chris Chris Chris!
She keeps me on my toes.
At 5:30, Lani was editing. The sports section was watching the Patriots go for two against the Bronco’s in the AFC championship game. The minute passed without a stir - without a mention of budget.
At 5:31 - Josh walked out of his/my office.
And like the sun coming up tomorrow, the certainty of Lani came in.
“It’s 5:30. Are we going to have budget? It’s 5:30 - are we going to have budget? Josh – Josh, are we going to have budget?
“Alright -– budget,” Josh said.
And the newsroom followed its new leader into the conference room.
Budget went quick. Josh saved sports for last. Afterward, he gave a short speech.
“Tonight should be an interesting night,” he said. “And just so you know, I have an open door policy. If anyone wants to come chat and share ideas, I’d be open for anything.”
Just for the record: My door is usually open.
Anyway, Josh ended the meeting with, “Let’s have the best night of the semester.”
“Josh, some new, nice paperwork for you,” Mara, the managing editor, said walking into my/his office. “Also, it smells pretty nice in here.”
“Yep,” Josh said. “It smells nice, it’s not cluttered, all those coffee cups in the corner are gone.”
“Looks great, I like what you’ve done with the place,” Mara said.
Josh then asked Mara to get him a paper clip. And right hand to God, she did it. This is remarkable considering 1) I didn’t actually know we had paper clips in the newsroom and 2) I love Mara, but if I asked her to donate a kidney, I think she’d just turn up her music and pretend she didn’t hear me.
Then, she said Josh was doing his job well, and at 5:59, I felt the newsroom slowly turning over.
I got a little bored. The news section went into their weekly budget, where they assign stories for the week. Josh was apparently getting really into his work. (Rob Thomas turned off).
So, I went over to the A&E desk to see what they thought of Josh’s leadership thus far. The arts desk, in a nutshell, is a firing squad that launches insults across the newsroom to Josh and the sports desk on a pretty consistent basis. There’s a certain cynical charm to the section, so of course, I wanted to know their thoughts.
“I haven’t even noticed him yet, so not doing so hot,” Gaby said.
“He needs to drink black coffee, clearly,” Alex said.
“That’d make him throw up. He wouldn’t do it.”
Another sports editor walked out of Josh’s/my office and walked past me by the arts section.
“Chris, how does it feel to be back out with the peasants?”
“Feels great,” I said.
“Getting back to your roots as a normal writer?”
Actually, a little. It was nice.
Josh walked out of his/my office.
“How’s it going boss?”
“Oh, you’re still here?” Josh said.
And at 6:50 I realized I’d become the Toby Flenderson of the newsroom.
I left the newsroom to get dinner and a cup of coffee and returned to find the tables had turned.
“Josh is creating a hostile work environment,” Lani announced.
“Yeah, he promised us he’d buy pizza for the newsroom and he didn’t,” Mara said.
“Then, he encouraged my writers to steal.”
“Cookies,” added Mara.
Josh denied these allegations. Later, he gave Lani his credit card to go buy pizza. He told her to buy one. She bought three. I gave her a high-five.
I was dragged into the A&E weekly budget after I finished my dinner.
I was an arts writer as a freshman - when both Gaby and I were shy freshmen who only took a story or two a week.
Gaby’s clearly come out of her shell. She started the meeting by welcoming me, then writing up “5 reasons why Chris Heady sucks” on the white board.
You can feel the love, can’t you?
I introduced myself as a freshman. Was just seeing if A&E is the right fit for me.
“If you want to take a story, that’s fine,” the print editor told me, “if not that’s totally cool.”
The room laughed. It’s the typical DN pitch to new writers, which brought me back to three years ago, sitting in this same room as a terrified freshman.
The end of the budget wrapped up by Gaby asking me to take a preview of a Burlesque show. I denied it.
“Those days are over,” I said.
Caught Josh’s/my office door closed.
I opened it up.
“Open door policy, huh?
“Yeah,” he said. “Anyone can open my door at any time.”
Josh invited some people into my/his office and they watched the Disney's short film “Feast.”
I asked him why.
"Hopefully it'll inspire some people," he insisted.
It might have been just for show. Maybe a because-he-can thing. Regardless, Josh was trying to make an impact, even if it was a small one. He was trying. I’ll give him that.
Josh closed his/my door again.
“That’s the second time you’ve done that,” Mike said.
Josh cracked the door open.
“He’s cranky as dictator,” Mike said to me.
“I’m not cranky,” Josh said.
“Close your door and your open door policy,” Mike said.
“You’re fired,” Josh said, and closed the door.
It was Josh’s third fake firing of the night.
As our deadline approached, Josh disappeared to finish his column so I assumed some editor roles again. I checked on design and copy and photo, threw away a couple pizza boxes.
I couldn’t help myself, OK?
But six hours of watching the newsroom and 1500 words documenting the inner-workings of the newspaper later, sitting back at the table I began the night at I kept thinking about that arts section budget meeting.
It took me back to my freshman year, when I was too scared to take a story and being an editor was my worst nightmare. It also reminded me of my roots.
I think one thing that people realize when they get into a leadership role or when they move up in the world, be it on the varsity basketball team or the head of a non-profit, is your passion can take a real hit.
The day-to-day grind in your profession or passion can be tough. I know plenty of athletes who have played so long they begin to hate the sport. When a passion becomes a job, it can become tedious and annoying.
What watching the newsroom taught me was how important it is to rekindle your passion every now and again. Not that mine has dwindled, but the beauty of journalism can be dimmed by sitting in an office. That’s not what journalism is. Sitting in budget meetings, watching freshman talk excitedly about beginning reporting classes and eavesdropping on potential multimedia story ideas, I got to re-visit the days when I didn’t have to worry about W-2’s or getting student funding.
It was a nice breath of fresh air.
The DN gets a little weird at about 11. Our deadline is midnight, and we’re usually scrambling for some reason or another. Last night, we were trying to fill space. “One Direction” played from the design nook. Eight editors swarmed around the final pages writing headlines and getting in final edits.
Josh sat on a couch nearby. His tie was off.
“Alright, final thoughts on the night Josh,” I said.
“What’s that even mean?"
“Because I’m done with everything now. And I did what I set out to do.”
"Which is what, sit in Chris’ office for three hours?” Andrew Barry, the photo editor, said.
"No,” he said. “Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.”
I know I did.