Column | Reluctantly rewarded


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

News editor Martha Layne sits at her desk in The Pitt News office.

By Martha Layne, News Editor

I am the most reluctant editor at The Pitt News.

Let me explain, and take you along my journey at the newspaper.

When I decided to change majors — from neuroscience on a pre-medicine track to finance and accounting — after my first year, I committed myself to pursue other interests that I wouldn’t have been able to had I continued on the pre-medicine route. This led me, on a random day in May, to the old site, where there was a banner ad for The Pitt News, saying they were hiring on the news desk. As a side note, Jon Moss, now the editor-in-chief, said I am one of the very few employees to have found their way to The Pitt News via the tiny ad on the website.

Nonetheless, I found myself dusting off my writing skills, and that summer, I worked with Jon to learn AP style, get rid of the Oxford comma and — the hardest transition of all — stop putting two spaces in between sentences. I can remember sitting next to Jon while editing my very first story, as he patiently deleted each and every extra space in between sentences.

That fall and spring of sophomore year, I wrote consistently, usually about every other week. I took mostly features and profiles, as the idea of event coverage terrified me. As a Type A-planner, the thought of having to find sources and write up the story in just a few hours was not something I was about to sign up to do, not for the $15 I was paid per story. Right before spring break 2020, Jon and Mary Rose O’Donnell — the editor-in-chief- and managing editor-elects, respectively — approached me about applying to be a news editor. I politely declined, stating that although the idea of my own cubicle was tempting, I simply wasn’t able to commit that kind of time and energy.

I thought that was the end of that.

I wrote a bit over the summer, covering a few stories here and there, but was mostly focused on surviving the COVID-19 pandemic. As the fall semester approached, I received a frantic Slack from Jon and Mary Rose — they wanted to call.

I was convinced that I would be fired for not writing enough. I worried that perhaps the paper was getting sued for something I wrote. I remember sitting in a Chick-Fil-A parking lot when they called, asking me if I could serve as the assistant news editor for the year, as their previous lineup for the year had fallen through. I thought about it, and said I would work on a one-semester trial and requested that we have a check-in at the end of that semester to see how everything was going. That check-in never came.

I grew to love editing. The work was some of the most challenging I had ever done — learning to edit, work with the other news editors and manage a desk with around a couple weeks’ notice and no training — but I enjoyed every second of it. Rebecca Johnson — the news editor at the time, current managing editor and editor-in-chief-elect — became a perfect work friend. And though the late nights were taxing, they were all worth it when I got to help a writer get published.

At the close of that year, my junior year, Rebecca and Jon asked if I would consider serving as head news editor during the upcoming year. Although I did seriously consider it, I told them that I was content in the duties and role of the assistant news editor. So they hired a new head news editor and another assistant news editor, and the fall semester began.

I did my best to offer my learned guidance and wisdom to the two new news editors, and they took my advice in stride, and the team functioned well. At the end of the fall semester, they both decided that this wasn’t the path for them and left to pursue other dreams and interests. Again, Rebecca and Jon sat me down, asking if I could serve as the head news editor. I finally said yes. I figured it was only one more semester, and I was basically doing the job anyways — plus, the pay raise was nothing to snuff at.

I fell in love with the job all over again. I had the beautiful opportunity to mentor and guide Punya Bhasin and Betul Tuncer, the two assistant news editors this past semester. With the return of in-person meetings, I got to know the news desk better and form cherished relationships with writers.

In a cliche way, I felt like I was made for this — the editing, the managing, the caring for. The latter was something I recently instituted at our weekly news desk meetings — “Does anyone have anything personal or professional to share?” On a college campus, where people do this job because they want to, personal life often affects professional performance. I learned that if I have a stronger personal relationship with the writers, we have a better professional relationship.

I loved leading a group of people, as individuals, toward a common goal — spreading the news. Watching writers grow from brand new writers to senior staff writers is one of my favorite parts of the job. I will miss my cubicle, the work, the people, but most of all, I’ll miss getting to be a small part in someone’s bigger journey towards growth.

I am the most reluctant editor at The Pitt News.

I didn’t believe that I had the capacity, competency, time or energy to be an editor. I wanted to remain in my comfortable writer’s bubble, sticking to what I knew I could do well. But I was pushed, very reluctantly, into something bigger than myself. I grew into the role, filling up the space in each new situation I was presented with.

Don’t let reluctancy, hesitancy and fear hinder you from the opportunities that you’re presented with. Take the chance, do the thing. Let others speak encouragement to you, even if you don’t see it in yourself. Because one day, you will.