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OFF THE BEAT: Turn down the suck!

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AUGUST 25, 2011

When I first got hired at The Daily Californian, I thought I was the shit.

No matter that I had already been rejected once before and up until that point had little to no journalism experience. I was on top of the world and thought I was going to be amazing.

Then I had my first assignment.

That’s when it hit me: I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Turns out covering school dances and canned food drives doesn’t prepare you for real-world journalism very well.

I remember coming in that morning thinking I’d learn how the office worked, mess around with the computers and whatnot. Little did I know I’d be embarking on my very own story assignment.

My editor told me, “One of the libraries is being renovated in Berkeley, so that’s what you’re writing about — six inches, due at 5 p.m. today.”
Inches?! What are inches? Who runs the library? Where is the library? Couldn’t I watch someone else write their story first?

No, now I had to write six full inches — roughly 270 words, or less than half the length of this column (ha) — about the impending library renovations.

I was frantic. I called everyone I could possibly think of, heard back from no one, skipped my class to keep reporting and even plopped down in the middle of Upper Sproul Plaza to take notes for an interview when someone finally called me back on my cellphone.

If you want the textbook definition of a hot mess, that was me.

In the end, it worked out, but needless to say, that is not one of my most outstanding articles.

Looking back on that moment two years later, it seems so silly how much I was hyperventilating about such a simple story. But going from being editor in chief of your high school newspaper to the bottom of the barrel at an award-winning college newspaper can be quite a traumatic experience.

I had to start all over. I had to re-learn everything I (thought I) knew. And never in a million years did I think I would be a news editor here. I thought I was exceptionally horrible — and to be completely honest, I was, for a while.

I was one disaster after another. Have you ever had someone completely rip apart something you wrote and rewrite the entire thing? Not a fun experience.

But I buckled down, paid my dues and worked my way up through the organization.

I went back and relearned the basics — who, what, when, where, why? Who started this? Why is it significant? Where will things go in the future?

I built on that every day, discovering more and more that I was finding my passion, and during my second semester at the Daily Cal, I reached a turning point.

I began covering the ASUC — one of the only student governments in the country with an active political party system — and then knew that I wanted to pursue journalism as a career.

Learning the dynamics of the different parties involved, covering a large scale election and honing my political reporting skills gave me the boost I needed to push forward.

Sometimes, all it takes is a slight surge in confidence to inspire someone to move on to greater things.

Over my two years here, I have had the opportunity to cover a controversial divestment bill authored by some members of the ASUC Senate that garnered international attention, to interview Archbishop Desmond Tutu and to cover a statewide protest for higher education in Sacramento and countless other contentious issues throughout the University of California.

And with each issue I tackled, I found myself wanting to try harder, reaching for higher aspirations and always looking for ways to improve.

Now, having been in the same position as all my former editors (God bless them), I see my reporters having the same meltdowns and issues that I had, and I’m glad to know it wasn’t just me.

But I always try to keep in mind how I felt as a reporter — when I was just starting out here, terrified of my editors, with absolutely no clue who was on the UC Board of Regents or what “institutional knowledge” was and why it was important.

And as frustrating as it can get, when a reporter comes to me and can’t tell me basic facts for their story — when an event occurred or where the funding for a project they’re writing about came from — I try to teach them, rather than chastise them, as much as I sometimes want to throw things.

But you have to remember that not everyone is an instant star and that sometimes it takes a little more time and direction to reach the point when it all clicks.

If you give it enough time and effort, all of the things that you used to obsess over and worry about become completely intuitive and are no longer a concern.

Pat yourself on the back when you make strides forward, but always remember how you got there and what keeps you grounded.

Use common sense, think about what you’re doing and always try to keep the bigger picture in mind. And if all else fails, go back to the basics and learn it all again. Because that works. Just look at me.

Contact Allie Bidwell at 


SEPTEMBER 01, 2011