Editor in chief: time at Star will stay with me forever

By Kelly Bauer

If I’d had the money to attend Mizzou, I would have. That would have been an incalculable mistake.

When I first came to NIU, I saw my enrollment as a failure. I was accepted into Mizzou and was automatically admitted to the school’s journalism program, an honor given to freshmen who have high ACT scores. It was my dream school because of its reputation for journalistic excellence, something which appealed to a high school senior who hoped (and still hopes) to work as a war correspondent and editor. NIU was my backup school, and I didn’t concede that I and my family didn’t have the money for Mizzou until a few days before classes began in DeKalb.

I wanted the bragging rights of Mizzou because I had no idea who I could become through work at the Northern Star. None of us do.

My skills as a journalist have grown at the Star, yes: I am a stronger writer, including more unbiased analysis and context in my stories; I write quicker, beating the Daily Chronicle to breaking news; I manage people more comfortably; I can organize projects and I can go toe to toe with any administrator who tries to reject a FOIA request.

But, the Northern Star has also taught me what it is to fail and pick myself up, to see potential in younger journalists and plan how I can help them succeed, to use my passion to inspire others and to use my experience to teach them.

First year

My first year as editor at the Northern Star — when I was a sophomore in 2012-13 — was relatively easy: University scandals and news fell into my lap, and the Star staff picked up writing, design and general excellence awards as if that was our job. I debated with administrators and consulted with lawyers as we considered a lawsuit over unanswered FOIA requests.

At the time, I thought my battles to investigate and seek answers were the greatest challenges I could face.

Second and third year

My second and third years as editor in chief have proven otherwise. The newspaper industry’s financial troubles, to which the Star is not immune, have kept me up late at night. I constantly wondered what I had to do to help the Star remain financially stable, independent and a training ground for young journalists.

Instead of focusing on the bad, we worked on the good: The staff organized a major revamp of the newsroom so we could better serve the interests and habits of our readers, and this spring the Star moved to printing twice a week while publishing online 24/7 as part of those changes. The number of people reading the Star has grown tremendously, and the staff is now more prepared for the digital-focused newsrooms we’ll encounter.

I’ve gained more than technical knowledge from the Star, though. In October 2013, an alumnus held me down, attempted to remove my clothes, kissed me and groped me. He didn’t stop when I told him to — in fact, the only thing that ended the assault was a phone call from a Star editor telling me about breaking news.

I felt powerless and was ashamed to reach out to alumni or current staff members, my closest friends, because I thought they would be upset to hear me talk about what he did. I feared they would see me as powerless, would think I was a weak person, a poor editor in chief. I was certain they would think I was lying or trying to seek attention.

But, seeing my distress, the staff reached out to me. Their strength and care helped me open up, and from them I learned strength isn’t silence in the face of pain or always guiding the staff to success. Strength is an ability to be present, to listen and care during tough times and to work, even if it’s against the odds, to overcome the insurmountable.

Lessons learned

It’s easy to be a leader when times are good. It’s far different when things are challenging: People have looked to me for answers and guidance, and being the bearer of bad news wasn’t the most enjoyable task.

But, I’ve grown from the girl who wanted to brag to employers that she’d gone to Mizzou. I’m someone who wants to be a journalist of the Northern Star variety: I want to slog through the tough news. I want to investigate and find the inequalities and errors. I don’t want stories and easy awards to fall into my lap. I’m strong for my staff when giving them bad news, and we work together to find solutions and make things better for future Star kids.

I don’t think these are lessons I could have learned at any other college newspaper, and I wouldn’t be the person I am if I had worked anywhere else. The Northern Star doesn’t coddle anyone. We’re a tough crew and we’ve got a chip on our shoulders, but every editor is dedicated to passing down his or her skills, experiences and strength to the next generation of Star kids.

I’ll carry what I’ve learned here into my next job. The Northern Star will stay with me forever.