Columnists’ careers in a college cocoon: vignettes from the opinions section


Thomas J. Yang

Opinions Editor Henry Glitz and Assistant Opinions Editor Sarah Shearer cringe at the thought of the possible injuries that could occur during an ice skating accident. (Photo by Thomas J. Yang | Visual Editor)

By The Pitt News Staff

We here at The Pitt News occupy a difficult space. For us, Pitt is both a presence in our classrooms as an educator and in our columns as an organization we have to keep accountable. We aren’t quite a club — TPN is independent from the University — and yet our location in the William Pitt Union keeps us close.

While it isn’t quite an official career, working here definitely has all the hallmarks of a job — and it sure feels like one. We at the Opinions Desk wanted to take advantage of this special edition of the paper to share our experiences in that in-between. Bear with our subtle self-promotion.

Anne Marie Yurik, Columnist

When I first applied to write for the opinions section of TPN, I wasn’t sure what it would be like.

I thought working for opinions would all take place on a single sheet of paper. I imagined one Microsoft Word document where I proposed what I wanted to write about and then just wrote it. I figured my editors would edit my story, and it would just head off to publication. But that’s definitely not how it’s done.

We have a meeting every week where we pitch our ideas to the rest of the opinions staff. After proposing the pitch and taking into account any new perspectives brought up, we write the article by Saturday. The day before it goes into production, it gets edited by the opinions editor, the Copy Desk, the managing editor and the editor-in-chief.

By the time a story appears in the paper, there are approximately 10 people who have seen and worked on my Google Doc. The paper I worked for before TPN was definitely a team effort, but TPN is a village of individuals who all make production possible.

From photos or illustrations to correct journalistic style to assistance with pinpointing the argumentation and all things in between, there is someone on staff to help.

Really, all the work that’s done for my byline simply starts with me. I didn’t expect the amount of effort behind the scenes that goes into each part of the paper, but it’s a truly incredible system with dedicated individuals. I even get notes back on my piece after it’s published. Our faculty adviser — Harry Kloman — sends a mass email with his thoughts on each article to the entire staff.

TPN is complex, and it’s truly amazing how college kids are able to produce something with all these steps five nights a week.

Neena Hagen, Columnist

From the moment I set foot inside The Pitt News office in the William Pitt Union, I knew my first work experience would be special.

I stumbled in awkwardly, struggling to find my way to my soon-to-be editor in a sea of computers and cubicles. Ever since that first day, my position as a columnist for TPN has been a whirlwind of positivity — from comments from my editors calling my writing “meh” and “wordy” to the love letters I’ve received in my inbox calling me “biased, ignorant and hateful.”

Gleaming praise from the president of a political group on campus greeted my column about Pitt’s three-way debate last November as they declared it “disgusting” and “dishonest.” And frat members heaped adoring compliments on my critique of Greek Life, describing it as embarrassing, ignorant and poorly written. Never before have I had the opportunity to receive such delightfully entertaining hatred from so many walks of life.

But in all seriousness, being an employee here has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. We as columnists have such flexibility to write about topics ranging from local campus issues to national politics — and the creative and intellectual freedom to present any angle of the story.

So if you’re looking for a job — which might be why you’re reading this edition — definitely consider applying to TPN. Shameless plug, but we think it’s great. And I can personally assure you, there are absolutely no downsides at all.

Columnist Maggie Koontz checks her computer before The Pitt News’ weekly Opinions Desk meeting. (Photo by Thomas J. Yang | Visual Editor)

Maggie Koontz, Senior Columnist

When I first began working for TPN, I didn’t expect to write anything apart from columns. I thought I’d only be able to write articles complete with ledes, nut grafs and kickers. I believed that I would be a journalist — but now, all of that has changed.

After writing three columns and struggling to publish more, I decided to quit because writing journalistically was killing my creativity. I admired other people’s work, but the form just wasn’t for me.

I went into the office with every intention of leaving the newspaper, but I left with a new perspective as an opinions writer — all thanks to my editor, Henry. He offered me the opportunity to write more creatively, and after a little bit of brainstorming, we came up with the idea to write vignettes about places on campus — an idea that became “The Friday Fly.”

Since the birth of “The Friday Fly,” I have been much happier with my writing. My friends like reading the vignettes I write and look forward to seeing them in the newspaper. After successfully publishing these pieces of creative nonfiction, I started to pitch more interesting ideas during our meetings Thursday nights. For example, the winter break holiday vignettes and this employment guide mash-up were products of my mind — with the opinion editor’s blessing. I was also able to publish two poems a few weeks ago.

I am so blessed to be able to write for a newspaper that promotes innovative ideas and allows me to experiment with different forms. I never thought I would see my name printed in a newspaper attached to a work of creative nonfiction or poetry. And every time I see my byline, I’m filled with pride.

Sarah Shearer, Assistant Opinions Editor

It was the first Twitter activity I had in about a year — I forgot I even had an account — when the Westboro Baptist Church followed up after a visit to Oakland the week before.

“What a bizarre & ignorant lie to claim that WBC is a money-making enterprise,” WBC member Jael Holroyd tweeted at me.

I’d never been called out like this before — and to be honest, it felt pretty good.

The tweets were in response to a column I wrote in September about the WBC when they came to picket in Oakland. It was the second column I wrote for TPN and the first time I’d ever done reporting.

I left my apartment building that day wearing my big backpack and a flimsy rain jacket, which kept me dry for about two seconds after I left to meet the WBC picketers in the pouring rain that Friday afternoon.

I could hardly even use the notebook I bought that morning — the one with a spiral ring at the top, which I’d deemed the most “reporter-ish” looking one in the store — because of the downpour. I’m reminded of that day every time I look at the water-wrinkled pages of that notebook.  

I couldn’t see through my glasses in the rain, but I knew I had to get out there. And though plenty of students stood on the corner of Bigelow Blvd and Forbes Ave when I arrived at the protest, I could hardly bring my then-timid self to approach one of them to ask for a quick interview.

Working at TPN has taught me that there is so much on the other side of the wet notebook — I just needed to have the courage to use it. And now that I have it, I’m never looking back.