he very first issue of The Heights reads like an inside joke in the best way possible. The articles are nominally the same as today’s—fanfare over a big football win, coverage of the University president’s address—but something about this front page makes you feel like it was written by someone in the know, for someone in the know. The tone, casual and friendly, assures the reader that the editors behind the words are fellow students. In short, these early copies carry the voice of a community that had no other means of mass communication.
Today, the voice of the community has expanded to other channels: Twitter, student organizations’ group chats, the Facebook meme page. This change isn’t unique to Boston College or The Heights, of course—we’ve all heard that everyone with a smartphone can be a journalist these days, and in some ways, it’s true. But as members of the BC community, writing about that community, for that community, being a home for that voice is important. When graduates cross the stage at Commencement in May, do they see their experiences reflected on our pages? We are, after all, student-journalists—not that we go to class—and the subjects of our articles live in our dorms, sit next to us in class, and stand behind us in the Eagle’s panini line. What is The Heights if not a place for their memories to be represented?
In my time on this paper, I’ve seen the news section operate at its full potential when editors look around and ask students what they are experiencing so they can find a place for them the page. Sometimes, our articles come from our own entrepreneurship or from keeping track of perennial storylines (did someone say another lawsuit involving BC?). Occasionally, we break news and spark a conversation on campus. But our best reporting happens when people feel like they can open up to us with their stories or when an administrator responds to a long-shot interview request.
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his isn’t to say that the democratization of the news has forced our coverage to become reactionary. After all, 2017’s “Silence is Still Violence” march warranted more than one article, so we interviewed student leaders and administrators about DiversityEdu and the student experience survey—both responses to students’ demands—and a few months later, we interviewed them again. We didn’t stop our coverage of graduate students’ fight to unionize with the latest National Labor Relations Board ruling. Instead, we covered the status of labor rights at colleges nationally. We weren’t satisfied with hearing about the general plans for the Schiller Institute, so we spoke to department chairs from every corner of campus to see what they were excited to see come of it.
This task—writing the story after the first story, and then the story after that one—has become even more important in a time when the news passes around campus like the world’s most convoluted game of telephone. And as the paper of record for BC (Heights editors, self-important? Never!), we don’t just have the responsibility to follow these storylines for contemporary readers, but the opportunity to preserve them for future audiences.
Over the past decade, we’ve continuously covered the conversation surrounding mental health as the topic expanded and fully entered the campus consciousness. In 2016, we published “Walk the Line,” a 10,000-word look at the progress and setbacks of the LGBTQ+ community on campus. Earlier this year, we scoured our archives to assemble a timeline on black history at BC, with input from the students, activists, and professors who helped shape it. These are the stories of BC, yes, but they’re stories that are playing out across the country, on campuses, and in workplaces.
The point I’m trying to make isn’t that the digital age has forced us to play catch-up all the time. Journalism at BC hasn’t been dealt a death blow by Twitter or smartphones—if anything, we now have more power than ever to sift through the voices of the BC community and find the perspectives we might have missed otherwise.
Keeping that mission in mind is difficult. A lot of stuff happens on this campus—in the past month we’ve written about two completely unrelated protests, a grand jury indictment, and the Irish Republican Army—and all that day-to-day activity can cloud the big picture. Although we’d love to be The New York Times—and boy do we try to be—we’re much more part of the community we write about, and that’s great.
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y my estimate, we’re approaching the 3,000th edition of The Heights to ever hit the newsstands, which also means that there have only been 3,000 attempts at telling the stories of BC because The Heights does something that nobody else can do.
We have a bigger audience than ever before. Students, alumni, parents, and even other news outlets make the choice to consult our reporting on all sorts of news, big and small. Our coverage has raised discussion among both long-gone alumni on social media and current students in dining halls. Thousands of people open our twice-a-week newsletter almost immediately after we send it.
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As I write, I’m looking at some recent front pages and wondering what some far-future news editor will think about what will then be the Days of Old at BC. Will that editor see in our current pages the same sense of togetherness that I saw in issue No.1? I hope that the answer is yes—that our pages have saved the cultural touchstones and the inside jokes that make BC unlike the dozen-or-so other schools in the area. The challenge in the coming years will be to write for our growing audience—which in previous years couldn’t access The Heights without coming to campus—while continuing to preserve the voice of the student body, as we’ve aimed to do since that very first issue.
Writing for The Heights in 2019 comes with the realization that the nature of the news has changed. We must seek out the voices of our peers and encourage the discussion of the news by chasing follow-up article after follow-up article. Civic engagement is a virtue, albeit one we might not typically associate with campus life. Rather than compete with the democratization of the news, we can try to use it to be the voice of the community—now no longer limited to the confines of our pages—for a greater Boston College.
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Former Heights Editor