Staff Goodbye | Head full of doubt

Published by Joe Wells, Date: April 29, 2022
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There have been many days where my duties at The Rocket have stressed me to the point of wanting to just sit in silence.

Give up. It’s not worth the strain on my physical and mental health.

But damn, I love being a journalist. I really can’t get enough of this job.

Years ago, halfway around the world in those moments of downtime of combat, I would let my mind wander on what it would be like to give college a try. What it is like to chase down a hot news tip and get a story out to the masses for their consumption and benefit.

Then I returned home, left the army and gave myself every excuse as to why I would never achieve this dream of mine. A decade later, here I am with more than 100 clips to my name, a few awards and a head full of doubt.

Yes, despite all this work I have put in over the past two years, I am still not sure I have what it takes to chase down multiple stories a day for a local paper but I am ok with feeling that way.

It keeps me on my toes, double- and triple-checking my work and constantly asking my peers to tear that work apart and poke holes in my reporting. It all makes me better at what I do.

These past two years have not only allowed me to hone my craft but tell your stories, SRU’s stories. Giving those who feel they haven’t been heard on-campus a voice has made me appreciate what journalism can do for a community.

I’m an idealist. I believe that a journalist has the power to create a better-informed community, hold government accountable and disrupt injustice wherever it may hide. Yet, I don’t see myself as some folk hero taking on corruption wherever it may lie.

Contrary to what some of the people I have reported on may believe about me, I have never been out here for accolades and social media points. There is no ego here when it comes to my reporting.

Trust me, I don’t see myself as a Woodward or Bernstein. Hell, I never even saw ‘All the President’s Men,’ until this year. Definitely hadn’t read the book.

As cheesy as it may seem to the grunts I served with, the guiding principles of the ethics of my reporting come directly from the values instilled in me from the military – accountability, integrity and respect.

I have done everything I can to give all the people and organizations involved with my reporting a fair shake. Everyone deserves to be heard and I will always listen.

However, I will chase a story for as long as I can. I will always ask the question some don’t want to be asked. I will do my job to report the story – the truth.

As I said, I’m an idealist.

I’m grateful that for the past two years the staff of The Rocket have allowed me to run with this job. Never have I been told to not go after a story, to pull punches and for that, the SRU community has become better informed. I really believe that.

I guess this is the point of the goodbye where I share my thank yous, no sense delaying the inevitable.

First, my wife Chrissy. You have had to put up with so much as I chased story after story, turning a student club job into a full-time position. If it wasn’t for you, I would have given up a semester in. Thank you for carrying me through this adventure.

My son Jacob, you have grown up so fast while I worked for this. I can’t wait to finally have a minute to breathe and just enjoy our time together chasing Pokémon and playing video games together.

Nolan and Adam – thanks for listening to Chrissy when she reached out and said I really needed a day to visit some of the best brothers I have ever had the honor of serving with. Having you two so close has been a godsend and I am ready to relax and enjoy more beers with you.

Alex, you don’t know but seeing you chase your dream and work toward it has helped keep me going in chasing my own. I looking forward to getting back into playing some games with you and hearing you tell me how trash I am all night.

The Rocket staff.

Nina, your work this year as editor-in-chief has been what’s allowed me to go after longer, more investigative work. Thank you for letting me really spread out and trusting me to provide solid reporting with every story. When you get to the New York Times, feel free to throw me some freelance work.

Mac, it has been an honor working alongside you at The Rocket and WSRU-TV. You have shown me how to be a better broadcaster and I have tried to show you how to write AP style. We both have a long way to go, but I know you’re going to be behind a desk dishing out the day’s events in no time.

Tyler, I knew nothing about sports writing, and honestly, I still don’t. But I have learned a lot from reading your work. I wish we could have collaborated more so I could really learn from you, but seeing how the year has gone, it was probably for the best. Keep knocking out those features, just give Brandon a break with the standard interviews.

And Brandon, thank you for your willingness to adapt projects at the drop of a hat because I had stories fall through or priorities change. Every time in the field working on a story was great and made my job of focusing on the reporting that much easier.

Rayni, I’m sorry for all the graphics I have asked of you. This last issue wasn’t really different. Even though I have harassed you about my news photography awards, your work blows mine out of the water and into space. Your work has always made my reporting so much better.

Kaitlyn, I’m sorry for the number of stories I have thrown on your plate on a Friday afternoon (and through the weekend). Thank you for catching all my stupid mistakes before going to print and hiding how bad I can be at writing (like you are doing right now copyediting this).

Halle and Marissa, I have messed with you both enough in the office. But I want you both to know I have appreciated your willingness to jump on the mundane stories I swore were so, so important. Also, I have screwed up both of your names while asking for your help and I still feel terrible about that.

Megan, you have definitely grown into the position and I’m confident you’ll work to evolve campus life into a section everyone is talking about. Always be eager but listen and watch those around you. Good things will happen.

Joe, with how schedules work, I rarely got to talk with you. You’re working with Tyler though and I know he will take care of you. I look forward to seeing your work develop over your time with The Rocket.

Bailey and Katie, I appreciate all the ads you have brought in for the paper to help me cut down on the stories I needed during dry periods. And for the in-house ads whenever I had a gap (or a ‘great’ idea). Thanks for being right there next to news, listening to me complain about school or the state of journalism.

Sarah, I enjoyed working with you and collaborating when we got the chance. Thank you for calling me out when necessary, criticizing my drawing ability and inability to say words properly, and for stepping up and chasing leads like the journalist you are.

Brittany Fleming, Joseph Harry, Mark Zeltner and Nick Artman: Thank you for keeping journalism alive at SRU and teaching this old dog a few new tricks. Your work has made me and the students better storytellers. The skills, tips and criticisms you have given me will be carried with me throughout my career.

To the SRU community, thank you for letting me tell your stories and share your concerns. I know there is a lot more to tell but The Rocket will always be there to help.

To the staff that is staying on next year and the incoming staff, along with leaving you a laundry list of story ideas and data I never got the time to dive into, I leave you with two pieces of advice.

Always ask follow-up questions. That’s where your story is.

And remember: All the pieces matter.

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Joe is a senior communication major with concentrations in converged journalism and digital media production. This is his second year with The Rocket and first as the news editor. With a penchant for asking tough questions, his byline can be found on more than 100 articles for The Rocket including many breaking news and investigative pieces. During the hours he’s not wearing the hat of student journalist, he spends his time as a husband, father and dog owner in Slippery Rock.

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