A little more than two and a half years ago, my first “Big Three” hired me for one of the lowest-paying positions we have on staff, and I was overjoyed. I didn’t even know you could get paid for this, and those few extra dollars were so exciting to me.
I joined our staff when COVID-19 restricted us from meeting in large groups. I got to know the people who I now look to for advice and guidance on Zoom.
I cherish the beginning of my time here, and it allowed me to grow as a journalist. But I really only fell in love with The Independent Florida Alligator when I stepped into the Gainesville Sun building and met dozens of very real people in our very real office about one year ago.
I had worked in a few newsrooms and with multiple rounds of The Alligator staff by then. However, the friendships I made last Fall propelled me to the position I’m in now and helped me gain the confidence to run this newsroom.
So, after six semesters on staff, I can tell you from personal experience and things I’ve witnessed, this is what happens when you join The Alligator staff.
At first, you come in thinking, “How hard can it be?” Maybe you had some writing experience in high school, or you took JOU3101 Reporting and got a good grade. You’re a little nervous but still excited. Your first editor will gently (or not so gently) shoot you down but also show you where to improve. You should be grateful for this honesty; you’re not going to get advice like this from anyone else, anywhere else.
If you can survive your first semester, I promise you it will get easier. You’ll come back prepared, and you’ll publish the best work you’ve ever done. Quickly, you’ll move up the ranks, and soon enough you’ll be three or four semesters in.
I couldn’t have done this without the editors who came before me. I worked under two desk editors and five sets of managing editors during my time here. I thank them endlessly for the patience and opportunities they gave me.
I traveled to Nashville with two of my closest friends to take photos at the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in March. I covered an event featuring Gov. Ron DeSantis, and I reported alongside other state news organizations as a 20-year-old UF sophomore. Among the many articles I wrote for the paper, I particularly liked my stories about a lack of Gen-Z in funeral care services, a Dr. Anthony Fauci look-alike contest and a woman who drives around rural Florida in a hand-painted hippie-style van.
This semester was the most rewarding experience of my Alligator career. We published The Alligator’s first Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month special edition paper, which was an extremely important and personal accomplishment. We remained committed to LGBTQ coverage throughout the summer and especially during Pride Month. We published a paper exploring significant legislation DeSantis enacted July 1. We also reestablished The Alligator’s communication with the university president this semester, and we will continue seeking transparency from the UF administration going forward.
I really couldn’t have done it all without the two people who make up the other, equal parts of our “Big Three”: Kristine Villarroel and Jackson Reyes.
Kristine, we were always on the same wavelength. We thought the same and edited the same. You have no idea how much that meant to me. Cheers to six semesters — where we somehow managed to miss each other for half of those semesters!
Jackson, thank you for being the person I can rely on most. You kept me sane and drove me insane. I’ll always have your back, and I’m so excited for you to continue making this place a fun learning environment.
Thank you Claire Grunewald, Kyle Bumpers, Alan Halaly and Christian Casale for being the friends I made along the way. Each of you mean so much to me and have helped me mentally prepare to move on.
When you decide this place is the place for you, you’ll be glad you gave it a shot. You’ll feel so rewarded by the professional experiences that come with the job. You may shed a few tears. You may also get to laugh. Regardless, if you choose to join The Alligator, I hope you also get to experience the love and friendship it can offer. Because that’s what happened to me.
Jiselle Lee was the Summer 2023 Editor-in-Chief of The Independent Florida Alligator.
Jiselle Lee was The Alligator’s Summer 2023 Editor-In-Chief. She was previously a reporter with NextShark News and a reporting intern at The Bradenton Herald.