Matt Cullen: Following a passion

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Each year, graduating editors are given 30 final column inches to reflect on their time at The Hatchet, published in the final issues of the year. Journalists historically used “-30-” to signify the end of a story.

It was 1,307 days ago that this all began.

I meandered into Whole Foods on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015 only knowing one thing: I was looking for the woman in the striped dress.

I suppose I also knew that she was the sports editor of GW’s student newspaper and, for a reason that now escapes me, I had recently applied to join her staff – believing somehow that I had been around sports enough and read enough ESPN over my 18 years of life to do the job (I was wrong).

It took just a brief talk in the crowded seating area before I agreed to both shadow a veteran reporter at a volleyball game and write a feature about a water polo player. I did not have much experience with either sport, but I was reassured that I would be fine (and at the time, my arrogance allowed me to believe it).

When I turned in my first article, I was less confident – I had never been a particularly good writer and I was worried that I had let down my editors who seemed to care deeply about each story. I watched from my computer in my dorm (which I was later told was impolite) as my editors tore apart every line and every word – essentially leaving only a couple commas from my original draft.

Surprisingly, that was not the end of the road for my Hatchet career. Whether it was due to genuine interest or simply an effort to improve, I ended up reporting a few more articles over the following weeks, joining the women’s basketball beat by November and finding myself addicted to the process. I felt I had never served in such a useful role. I was enamored with the work we were able to put out week after week. And by the end of my freshman year, I thought I was getting better.

But I faced a difficult decision in the spring of 2016: to interview for a position on Hatchet staff or to focus my time and effort on something that felt closer to my future career path. My eventual choice came down to one thing: I had an ever-developing passion for the news, one that was difficult to subside. I was still not yet a great writer or a talented reporter, but my passion for journalism, in sports and beyond, was growing exponentially and I felt that I could make a real difference on the newspaper’s sports page. I had usually made decisions based upon what I was good at or what could help me in the future. But when it came to joining The Hatchet, I decided to dive into a yearslong reporting and editing journey simply because it was the topic I thought most about in the morning and what I looked forward to most in the evening.

At this point, I know I can say that decision paid off. I moved up the ladder, becoming sports editor in 2017 and eventually managing editor in 2018. Along the way, there were absolutely times that I felt I was wasting my days, there was reporting I spent hours on that eventually got cut in the published article, there were stories that I missed, there were situations or source relationships I should have handled better, there were articles that made me think my improvement had stalled and there were (many) nights where I would be in the townhouse until the sun came up and the birds began chirping.

But despite the lows, my passion continued to grow and my desire to produce the news product that the GW and Foggy Bottom community deserves trumped any internal frustrations I had. My greatest successes as a member of staff have been when I have played even a small role in developing that same passion in my colleagues, and my greatest failures have been when I have been unable to do so.

***

Since that first day, more than 16 percent of my life has passed by. I have recently gone back and read the first draft of my first article again and given my time at The Hatchet a lot of thought. I took a few hours to read some of my old stories in an attempt to use this column to paint a picture of my four-year career. What I learned in that process is, despite my improved writing and reporting over the years, The Hatchet has developed me much more as a person than I could ever explain through well-thought-out ledes or intelligent interview questions.

The scores of articles that now feature my byline taught me about detail, commitment and structure; the hundreds of articles I edited taught me about communication, succinctness and consistency; the hours of research and argument that went into editorial board discussions informed my view of morality, compromise and preparedness; my dabbling in the podcast, graphics and design (and even my two published photos) taught me about well-roundedness, patience and teamwork; leading a team of reporters and later helping lead an entire staff taught me about the power of listening, the need for knowledge and the strength of a good leader; serving on the board of directors helped me understand the backbone of finances, the importance of history and the value of independence; and working with 30 people who are better than me at at least something, if not everything, taught me about humility, cooperation and specialization – among other things.

As I write this and look back on my Hatchet career, I realize that I am – without a doubt – not the same person that walked into that Whole Foods nearly four years ago. I am a better person. And I largely have The Hatchet to thank for that.

Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Over my years at the paper, I have met and worked with so many passionate and talented people. I have learned something from nearly all of you, and for that, I say thank you:

Mark: Thank you for bringing me onto the sports staff and shepherding me through my first year as an editor. Most of what you taught me was brand new and I could have never survived my first season of men’s basketball coverage without such an understanding and optimistic editor. We had some crazy times, both reporting-related and not, that brought us closer and helped me learn how to work on the fly. You and Dan made road trips among my favorite things to do. I hope future sports reporters can experience that.

Brandon: Thank you for coming back and sitting on The Hatchet’s board. Unfortunately, we never worked together on the paper. But over the past few years, we have become friends and I always look forward to what you have to say. Your outlook is unique and your passion is undoubtable.

Robin: Thank you for providing me with years of laughs. I can assure you I am not a Sour Patch Kid or anything else you have compared me to. During Vol. 113, I was always interested to see what you or your reporters were working on. You and other news editors continuously provided reason for me to improve my own work during my first year.

Sam Hardgrove: Thank you for coming to Annapolis with me and enduring my stress and frustration when I had to cover the breaking news. You always made seemingly boring photos look interesting and that is something I respect greatly. I hope the Navy is treating you at least as well as The Hatchet did.

Andrew: Thank you for providing me a contemporaneous example of what a section editor should be. As I became sports editor, I more fully realized how demanding the SNE job is. Still, day after day, you guys exceeded my expectations. And also, sorry about the Giants.

Arianna: Thank you for being such an independent and trustworthy podcast editor. When I was given the role of overseeing our audio production I was worried that I would not have enough to offer. Luckily you were there to handle all of the last-second changes and lead the podcast effectively through Vol. 115.

Olivia Anderson: Thank you for taking your role so seriously and using your photo skills to improve the quality of this paper. I did not know if taking over the sports photo section would be as easy as you said it would be, but you have far exceeded my expectations and ensured that our sports articles have valuable visual elements.

Sarah: Thank you for stepping up and taking on the demanding and important role of EIC for Vol. 116. There will be difficulties and roadblocks along the way, but I think you have what it takes to lead the next chapter of this paper. I will be reading and cheering from afar.

To everyone I have served on the editorial board with: Your knowledge, experiences and research made me believe that there were students on campus who are willing to push back in defense of the student population. Most of my pitches never found their way onto the page, but that may be in the best interest of the paper. To Melissa, Irene, Shwetha, Renee and Kiran: Thank you for writing and articulating the importance of student voices on campus better than I ever could. Without you guys, our staff editorials are just a jumble of notes.

Cayla: Thank you for putting your all into the news team this year. I was always impressed while reading your byline in years past, but I did not understand your commitment to this newspaper’s quality until I saw you lead the news section this year. I was never really in on the jokes you told with Liz or other staff members and I did not always agree with every one of your decisions, but I always appreciated how you dedicated the conclusion of your college years to this paper.

To my sports reporters: Thank you for returning to my meetings and always looking to improve. Without you, the section cannot function. I am grateful for all of the hard work you guys put in. Marty: Thank you for returning year after year and helping the younger writers develop their reporting knowledge. Agam: Thank you for dedicating a large part of your time to sports. I know it is what you enjoy, but it also helps a lot to have well-informed and genuinely interested reporters on staff. Maddie: Thank you for taking a diverse selection of stories and adding your knowledge of sports like gymnastics to the section. Kerri: Thank you for your willingness to report difficult stories and your reliability as a contributing sports editor. I do not know what your future holds, but my unsolicited advice to you would be to pursue sports journalism.

Barbara: Thank you for understanding the importance of the sports editor role and putting in the necessary effort to run the section. Probably the hardest thing I did while at The Hatchet was give up the sports section and move on to the next role. I did not fully know if you were ready, and I probably should have eased you into the role more. But as difficult as the transition and the year were, you continued to improve and become more independent. By the end of the year, it was clear you had the hang of things pretty well – so you could say you did me proud.

Liz: Thank you for your perfect attendance at our meetings. It feels like I talked too much and did not help enough this year, but you always acted appreciative even when it was not deserved. It feels like just yesterday that we published the first edition of Vol. 115, and now we are useless. Taking on the managing editor role was not something I had prepared or hoped coming in, but I am glad that I was able to work under an EIC that desired my feedback. You handled several difficult situations better than others would have and you learned sports faster than should be expected. You were more interested with putting out the important news than making friends. Thank you for that. And thank you for trying to keep me sane.

To Mom, Dad and Elizabeth: Thank you for sticking by me, reading and supporting me along my Hatchet career. None of us expected me to go into journalism and maybe that is not what was desired. But I really appreciate that you guys have forgiven me for a missed call or two on Sundays and still remained my biggest fans. I am forever thankful.

Lillianna: Thank you for being my best friend both when we were on staff together and after you left. In the first several months of my tenure as sports editor, you pushed me time and time again to improve the timeliness of my stories, the quantity of my stories and most importantly the quality of my stories. Your frustration with my sports section drove me to improve and make sure that every article was as good as I could possibly get it. We fought about words, we fought about structure and in the end, you would win and I would come out a better journalist. Without you I could have never been the writer or editor that I was. Our mutual passion for news, our competitiveness and our dedication to the paper brought us together. We spent many long nights working on this paper and made many memories in the process. It was hard to come back in Vol. 115 to a paper without you, but I was able to do so because you supported my individual efforts as managing editor and you accepted the unusual schedule that came with the role. During this past year, you have stuck with me through good times and bad, always right by my side. As much as I wrote above about The Hatchet making me a better person, you have done so at least as much – if not more. You have forced me to be a kinder, smarter, more confident and more thoughtful person. For that, and for so much more, I thank you. For months we joked about and chided at the 21 percent, we said it was a ridiculous number and that it made no sense. But now, B, we are the 21 percent. And I could not be happier about it.

-30-

Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.