I always crave mozzarella sticks from Essie’s at ten o’clock on Wednesday nights. I’m not sure why mozzarella sticks exactly — maybe it’s because they’re weighty, and I crave them in the hopes they’ll anchor me to the ground. Regardless, I know why I get strange cravings on Wednesday nights — since my first year at Swarthmore, I have developed a Pavlovian association between this particular time of every week and the Phoenix, the college’s oldest, (and I’ll say it, best) campus publication.
The way my time at the Phoenix is ending is remarkably similar to the way it began — in a completely unexpected way. When I came to Ride the Tide in the spring of 2014, I was finishing up my tenure as the founding editor-in-chief of my high school’s newspaper, the clunkily-named Rider Eye. I thought I was done with journalism, and then I walked by the Phoenix’s table at the infamous activities fair. I was actually frightened at how energetic the members of the Phoenix staff were and how aggressively they were recruiting prospective students. Mostly out of fear and partly out of obligation, I put my name down on the mailing list.
I went to their open house a few weeks later and met some editors who seemed way too cool and way too put together for me to ever associate with them (I’ve now learned as a current junior that it was probably all just for show, but whatever.) Fast forward another week, and I’m in the middle of writing my first ever news piece for the Phoenix.
It was awful.
Rather than firing me because it’s really hard to fire someone from a perpetually understaffed campus publication, I got a healthy dose of fairly brutal critiques and comments and suggestions. I slowly started to get the hang of things — and I really liked being a part of the organization that always seemed to be in the loop about the latest campus news. I started editing, I wrote some editorials, I started as managing editor, and all of a sudden I was the editor-in-chief of this strange, strange group of student journalists. And it’s been the most important experience of my time at Swarthmore.
The primary mode of intellectual engagement at Swarthmore is the language of theory. Swarthmore students love to theorize, analyze, and theorize. It’s what we’re good at. But campus journalism resists theory and theorizing — it’s just something you have to learn and do on the job. It feels real, viscerally real in a way that doesn’t really happen that often with Swarthmore academics. I love Thursday mornings (or, if we get out of publishing at 4am, afternoons) because of the moment I see the print edition of this week’s Phoenix for the first time. You get to say to yourself, “Look, I made something that isn’t a poststructuralist critique of Marx in a half-assed paper at three in the morning. I made solid journalism, instead!”
But campus journalism is also frustratingly, head-banging-ly difficult at times. You can only stay up for endless hours once or twice before the novelty wears off. Pieces fall through. The layout doesn’t quite work sometimes. We make quoting errors, but always try our best to resolve them. Long story short, this is student journalism, we’re students before we’re journalists and mistakes are going to happen. Over my career as a campus journalist, I’ve made more than my fair share. Just ask a Bryn Mawr College student or alum.
Most importantly though, the Phoenix wouldn’t exist without the people who work to make this publication happen every week. During the meetings and long Wednesday nights, there’s never a dull moment. There have been too many inside jokes, too many laughs, too many surprises, too many close calls, and too many moments of triumph to include in the text of an editorial.
Just as my entrance into the Phoenix Pham was unexpected, my exit is far from how I would have imagined it. I sustained a concussion over winter break and I’ve had to take a major step back this past semester from many of my commitments, including the Phoenix. There were more projects I wanted to pursue, stories I wanted to write, and more time I could have spent with the people that I care about so much. Despite all that, I stumbled my way to the end of the semester, and you’re now reading the last issue of the Phoenix for the semester and I wrote this final editorial. So I wanted to thank you, Swarthmore community, for giving us and for giving me a purpose.
We’re not a perfect organization and we’re always trying to be better. And my parting request to all of you reading this is to help us on that pursuit. If you’re feeling inspired, write an op-ed. If a Phoenix staff member reaches out to you to learn more about a story, give them a chance — and think of it as an opportunity to make a new friend. Maybe you have a story to tell one of us! Stories bring us together in ways that other forms of media can’t — and they’re my favorite one, by far.
To quote Kehlani, “All I’m trying to say is I thank you.”
It’s been real.
-Bobby Zipp ’18, EIC