I remember the first time I entered The Alligator newsroom as a staff writer. I felt small despite the hospitality and limited square footage of the glorified closet.
A skinny, wild-haired man in an orange and blue hoodie gave me the breakdown for my job as a metro news assistant. It was the middle of the Spring 2019 semester, and I felt like the awkward straggler at a family reunion. But this family quickly adopted me with open arms.
Devoun Cetoute — my editor, mentor, friend and colleague — taught me everything I know about the fundamentals of reporting and journalism outside a classroom. And less than a year later, the woman who edited one of my first stories ever as a contributing writer recruited me to help her run one of the largest independent student newsrooms in the country.
Whoa. How the hell did that happen?
Now, as a retiring digital managing editor, I’m trying to find the words to say goodbye to the place that brought me passion, friendship and an abundance of La Tienda chicken quesadillas.
Especially because it wasn’t supposed to end like this.
I was supposed to record Christina Morales popping open a bottle of champagne and making a toast to the newsroom. I was supposed to waddle into the printing press at 2 a.m. to watch the final paper travel through a series of big machines and conveyor belts. I was supposed to embrace my staff and take selfies to look back on.
But COVID-19 took that away, leaving us to produce a final paper remotely with staff scattered across the country with an improper farewell. The final Zoom call among editorial and production staff will last more than six hours, and the conclusion of my time as “Big 3” will be marked by the blue rectangular banner reading, “Leave Meeting.”
I never imagined in a million years I would help manage a newsroom during a global pandemic, but here we are. Continuing to inform. Continuing to cover dailies and chase long-form enterprise stories. Continuing to share stories that need to be shared.
These aren’t great circumstances, but I’m thankful to leave my mark on this byline and this masthead before passing the torch to the next crazy bunch — who will continue to make history while writing the first drafts of it.
To The Independent Florida Alligator: You will always hold a piece of my heart. Thank you.
Lina Ruiz was the digital managing editor of The Alligator.