The week before I left home freshman year for Foggy Bottom, I was convinced that I only needed two things: a P.O. box and a job. They were legacies of my childhood. I needed a permanent address and I needed to stay busy. While I had deeper worries about coming to college, somehow, I thought, if I could take care of those two things, everything else would fall in place.
And without much planning on the job front, before I really stopped to consider what I was doing, on my third day in college, I found myself gainfully employed by the second-oldest newspaper in Washington, D.C.
If I had known how much my life would be influenced by The Hatchet, I probably would have stopped to think. But even if I had done that, I would have pushed forward, anyway – especially knowing what I know today.
Now, staring down a commencement date within spitting distance, I can see just how much my personal, professional and academic development were shaped – some professors might suggest “stunted” – by The Hatchet. But for all its ups and downs, the experiences and achievements I have been a part of in the last three years have impacted me in tremendous ways.
The start of my employment was unceremonious. About the closest thing to a “welcome aboard” was when Mosheh Oinounou lost my high school portfolio, which consisted of a half dozen issues of my semi-monthly/monthly/whenever-we-could-get-it-out-the-door high school newspaper. (Mosheh, if it’s any condolence, Barnett found them when he was cleaning the office.)
Within days of becoming The Hatchet’s newest production assistant, I was making graphics and corrections. Within weeks, I was cursing the old Xant?, making pages and moaning about missing fonts. And within a couple of months, give or take, I don’t recall exactly, I was promoted to assistant production manager. I had become a part of The Hatchet, and it had become a part of me – and the walls of the production “office” will never be the same because of it.
The job was an interesting one. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that production is the glue of the newspaper. But we are the house ads; we are the leading and the kerning; we are the last deadline before it hits the fan. We wrestle with the computers and turn off the lights. We take stories, photos and ads and put them together like a big puzzle, and then we check the jumps, and somehow when the paper comes out the next morning, the jumps are off anyway.
Things coalesced. I settled in. And when Andrew Snow called me late one February night, five months into my employment, I knew something was wrong. He told me I had to come to The Hatchet. I told him I’d be there as soon as I could.
That evening we learned Jenny Dierdorff, production manager, my boss and friend, had taken her own life. While it ripped us apart individually, it brought us all closer together. We carried on. Despite the strain of not just missing a key staff member but dealing with the emotional toll of losing a friend, we went to press on-schedule after a production night that still seems like it should have been impossible.
Unwittingly promoted, I can say with total certainty that if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of Sarah Brown, Kyle Spector, Josh Stager and of course Andy Phillips, there’s no way I would have been able to hold things together. Forced into shoes I didn’t think myself capable of filling, I had to step up, but the support I had made my transition possible.
As we pushed forward into the spring, a sense of normalcy slowly began to return. Instead of just working hard to hold things together, we could work on improving the paper.
To impress oneself is the hallmark of success, I think. For me, it’s a great feeling to do something that I didn’t know I could do. I know the reputation I have around The Hatchet builds me up as some kind of miracle worker. Can’t think of a headline for this fancy layout? “No sweat, Stoneman will think of something.” It’s flattering, and it would be a lie to say that I don’t enjoy a bit of ego stroking from time to time. But I think that my reputation is more or less undeserved. Sure, it may look like I know a lot of stuff, but I’m really just picking it up as I go.
When I was in high school, I worked as a counselor for a week-long science camp that was run through the public schools. Though I still remember the Latin names of most of the native Oregon trees, one idea that I come back to more often is a bit of advice the staff would give to the incoming student leaders: fake it ’til you make it. It’s disarmingly simple, but it’s served me very well.
Back in March, Michael Barnett approached me to see if I was interested in designing a 32-page magazine about the basketball team. “Of course,” I told him. Never mind that I had never designed a magazine before; never mind that beyond my understanding of the technical workings of the computer programs involved, I didn’t have much of an idea what I was doing; never mind any of that. Even though I didn’t know how to make a magazine, I knew I could fake it.
I’m going to let you in on a secret that I haven’t told anyone before. I’ve been faking this whole time. Hell … I’m still faking it.
But that’s the thing about me; I don’t do something because I know how to do it. I do something because I don’t know how to do it. That has been why I have loved working for the Hatchet so much. I can succeed. I can fail. And that’s okay. We’re all doing the best we can; making the best newspaper we know how to make.
I came to college with two dilemmas – where could I get my mail, and where could I spend my time – and I’m leaving with one solution. Three years ago, after only a few days on the job, I explained my P.O. box plan to an editor, who promptly dismissed it. “Just have it all sent to The Hatchet,” she told me. So I did. And for the last three years when anyone asked me what my home address is, I’ve always said, “2140 G St.”
-The writer has been designing pages and doing magic tricks at The Hatchet since September 2003.