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Monday, March 04, 2024

The Alligator's sports editor, Mike McCall, and I were talking about our long-term career goals recently, and we have come to simple terms about what would validate our lives' work.

His: to be listed in his high school's Wikipedia entry under the notable alumni section.

Mine: to be in the Alligator's Hall of Fame.

On the second floor of our building, rows of mug shots of the likes of the beloved former general manager of the Alligator Ed Barber, former Washington Post Publisher Philip Graham and renowned columnist Carl Hiaasen line the walls. They all worked at this newspaper, in its various forms, and helped build it up to what it is today. And if I ever make it, I think it would mean more to me than making it into Cooperstown meant for Goose Gossage.

And my induction speech, if they even give those for the Alligator's Hall, would be a little bit like the paragraphs to follow.

There have been a number of people who have helped me to get where I am right now - writing this column in the editor's office of the Alligator, with framed editions about Danny Rolling's reign of horror and a loudmouth getting Tasered hanging above me.

First, I would like to thank the numerous superiors and colleagues here who have helped me frame a sense of purpose with my chosen field. This place burns a lot of people out: Many come in with dreams of becoming reporters at the biggest papers in the country; a good number of them end up going to law school.

But the people who I have become close with during my time here have solidified my love for this business. It's reassuring to know that journalism, in whatever medium, will be done by some of the brightest people I know.

Of course, I'd be remiss without mentioning a few of the journalism professors who have also inspired me - namely professors Mike Foley, Diana Schuh and Norm Lewis (and several others I don't have the space to name). It's really easy to be afraid of working for a daily newspaper in 2008, which I'll be doing now that my time is up at the Alligator. But those faculty members have kept me motivated.

The most important reason, however, for whatever success I've had (if you can call it that) is the Alligator itself. Most of you have probably never been in our newsroom. It's not exactly an inspiring building. The paneled walls make this place feel like a cave. Finding a chair that is comfortable enough to sit in isn't easy, and if you sit on the desk of one cubicle, it's most likely going to collapse.

But there is something about the newsroom when journalists are discussing a big story that just came in. I wasn't working during the Taser incident, though then-editor Lyndsey Lewis told me it was chaotic. But that's what we're in this for. The combination of deadlines and big stories can feel like you're being forced to cut the green wire or the red wire. Cut the wrong one, and the story explodes in your face.

To use an industry term, I guess I kind of buried the lede here. My point is that if you have any desires of being a journalist, do everything you can to work at the Alligator. The things you do here and the people you work with will stay with you forever.

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You might walk in here for your first time, like I did, to meet with an editor to pitch a story. Becoming a staff writer at that point might still be a dream. An editor? Out of the question. THE editor? Impossible.

But keep at it. If you would have told me I would be writing this column less than two years after I had my first story published, I would not have believed you.

Now my short few months at the helm have already come and gone. On to the next goal: the Hall of Fame.

Chad Smith is the editor of the Alligator.

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