Editor-in-Chief Farewell: Rebecca Smalbach

When I first joined the Bark, I was a copy editor. I thought that meant that my job was to search through every story, making sure all content was grammatically correct and adherent to AP style, and that’s what my job ended up being, to a certain extent. There’s a sense of accomplishment in knowing that a story is 100 percent error-free, and I liked editing stories and placing them into neat little boxes without getting into the messy, more undefined aspects of what makes a story great.

But as I gained more editing experience then eventually became editor-in-chief, I realized that editing solely for grammar left something to be desired. The most important changes that I can make to stories come in the form of content edits, rather than grammar edits, since the meat of the story, the angle and topic and voice, is what makes them great, rather than merely good. When reporters conduct insightful interviews and gather revealing quotes, they put together great stories; stories that I could better by checking for correct grammar, yes, but which are already fascinating and original reads on their own. Articles like an in-depth profile on Lead Custodian Tim Mullery or an investigation of how a toxin impacted California’s crabbing industry exemplify this―they demonstrate the amazing talent that the Bark houses, and the willingness of its reporters to seek out the most interesting stories and tell them in the most interesting ways.

Being an editor means encouraging everyone to stretch themselves to their limits in order to produce their best work, not only in terms of interviews and writing quality, but also in terms of pursuing the topics about which they are most passionate, so that passion can come through in their writing.

And in my year as editor-in-chief, I’ve come to believe that the Bark’s primary strength is its ability to allow student journalists to marry an understanding of the technical aspects of the craft with a sense of freedom to pursue the topics that motivate them to be great. Great stories are achieved through the process of great people doing great reporting using great grammar, and in my last two years in the advanced journalism program, it seems to me that the Bark, at least most of the time, has all three.

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