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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

If you’re reading this, my time’s up

What the hell did I just get myself into?

Karina Elwood was Editor-in-Chief at The Alligator
Karina Elwood was Editor-in-Chief at The Alligator

I’ve written this column so many times.

At the end of each semester, as the paper rolled fresh off the press, I’d quickly flip to the goodbye columns to see what everyone had to say, then I’d start constructing my own column in my head. What would I have to say when it was finally time to go? Would I make people laugh? Would I make them cry? What would my final mark be? 

But, all those other versions of this column could never print here. Back then, I leaned on the idea that there was at least one more semester to take on a new position. I always had more time. So, I guess if you’re reading this –– finally out of my head and on the paper –– it means my time’s up.

I like the way I used my time here. I started as the City Commission writer back in Spring 2019. I edited features later that Fall. Then, after a very long hiatus to get some professional experience under my belt, I returned for my final semester as editor-in-chief. 

I’ll never forget driving home from my first print night in January 2019. It was pushing 11 p.m. on a Sunday, and I missed all my friends hanging out to kick off the semester. One thought kept racing through my mind:

What the hell did I just get myself into?

Turns out it was this crazy, life-changing experience. It was where I launched my career and made my closest friends. It houses my first bylines and favorite college memories. It will always be where I first fell in love with journalism. I just wish I had a little more time. 

Coming back to The Alligator after being gone for more than a year (which is ages in Alligator time) posed a set of unexpected challenges. When I looked at the staff list in January, I realized that –– with the exception of a few old-timers –– I was returning to almost entirely new faces. Most of them knew each other, but I was this outsider showing up to run the show. 

They didn’t know The Alligator I’d grown to love. I’d have to explain Devoun Cetoute’s hot food takes and tell stories about getting tattoos with Angie DiMichele. I’d have to tell them about all the ‘Dream Team’ stories I worked on with Chris Day and unravel years of tea. The new faces nodded and laughed along, but I felt like I was talking about a ghost of what The Alligator once was. 

But, when I returned this semester, The Alligator took me in with open arms. I picked up on the new dynamics and learned how to run the newsroom virtually. My dread for print night Zoom sessions quickly turned to excitement to see Kaelyn Cassidy and Payton Titus in the office every Sunday. I got to help writers prepare for interviews for prestigious internships. I tried to channel my energy into producing not just better papers but stronger reporters.

Still, I spent many nights worrying that I wasn’t enough for them. I worried they weren’t getting the same experience I did. Were they having fun? Was I pushing them hard enough? Was I working them too hard? Every Sunday night when I got home after the paper went off to the press, I never went right to sleep. I’d stay up to clean my room or watch TV –– anything to quiet my brain and stop the worrying — wondering what I could have done better.

That’s just part of the job, though. I knew what I was getting myself into. I read the goodbye columns and letters left behind by former EICs. I was ready to play the game. It wasn’t easy, but seeing the progress of every person on this staff was worth it.

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I do wish there was more time. I wish I could stick around long enough to see the staff get vaccinated and pack into the dusty newsroom for a Sunday afternoon staff meeting. I want more time for a newspaper Friday, for a Halloween party, for a late night trip to Jacksonville. 

I’m terrified of becoming a ghost –– of one day becoming a name in someone’s goodbye column.

But that’s what happens when your time runs out.

Karina Elwood is a UF journalism senior. She was the Spring 2021 Alligator editor-in-chief.

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