I learned how to be a journalist in my sophomore year bedroom. I typed up breaking news briefs, missing gecko mysteries and protest recaps under my collaged poster wall. It was almost a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and The Alligator staff was forced to work from behind computer screens and double masks.
It was tough covering the Gainesville community while mostly restricted from venturing into it. I spent hours combing through social media trying to reach community members and communicate my humanity through a short message:
“Hi, my name is Lucille Lannigan, and I’m a reporter for The Alligator. I’m writing a story, and I would like to talk to you about it.”
What I was trying to say was: Hi, I am a person just like you. I care about your views on this. I’m trying to learn about our community, and I need your help in doing so. Please trust me.
Some heard this message and some didn’t, but for everyone who did: I feel extreme gratitude. They’re the reason I keep reporting and writing. They’re the reason I love storytelling.
Most nights, I went to bed with a stressed knot in my stomach. I lay awake with concerns that I wasn’t doing enough or that I was letting people down.
Twice a week, I sat on staff Zoom calls, squinting at my screen trying to glimpse the faces of my peers. Were they as stressed as me? Were they doing okay?
It was isolating for sure. But at the same time, I had never felt more connected to Gainesville. Through countless phone calls and Zoom interviews, and the occasional in-person visit, I began to unearth an entire community. The people and subjects I wrote about became a part of me — their stories permanently housed in my mind.
Through the words I wrote, Gainesville came alive in a colorful array of history and culture.
I think UF students often enter and leave Gainesville without ever truly getting to know it. However, The Alligator showed me that Gainesville is so much more than just the university and the outskirts of its campus.
Gainesville is its historically Black neighborhoods, its activists and its business owners. Gainesville is acres of rich, green conservation lands buzzing with wildlife. It’s the people who care so much about their community and who work so hard for Gainesville to be a place suitable for all of its residents — even the ones, like me, who will only be here for four short years.
Now, as I say goodbye to the paper that shaped me as a journalist, I am grateful to be sitting, in-person, at the newsroom despite its moldy ceiling and sunken, dusty couch. I am grateful to no longer be squinting at my peers in their tiny Zoom boxes and instead be surrounded by their passion and their light as they diligently type away at their stories.
I love The Alligator for making me fall in love with Gainesville and storytelling — especially the local kind. I’m honored to have learned so much and to have been surrounded by such wonderful people while doing so.
Without that stressed Alligator stomach knot, I think I’ll feel a bit empty. I’ll carry the paper, and the stories I’ve been lucky enough to share in it, with me forever.
Lucille Lannigan was the Metro Editor of The Independent Florida Alligator.
Lucy is a senior journalism major and the metro editor for The Alligator. She has previously served as a news assistant and the East Gainesville reporter for the metro desk as well as the health and environment reporter on the university desk. When she’s not doing journalism you can find her painting or spending time outside.