Senior reporter excited for future

Parker+Otto+sits+outside+on+NIUs+campus.+

Courtesy Parker Otto

Parker Otto sits outside on NIU’s campus.

By Parker Otto, Columnist

At the time of this writing, it’s two in the morning and I am trying to summarize four years of working for the Northern Star. Being a writer often is made up of late evenings, fueled by Coca-Cola and a deadline. But as I write one of my final articles for this paper, I am amazed at just how far I have come at this wonderful paper.

I entered my freshman year of NIU majoring in communications and minoring in journalism. While my main ambition was, and is, to study filmmaking, I added journalism as a fall back. After all, some of my heroes and favorite storytellers are journalists: Roger Ebert, Bob Woodward, Hunter S. Thompson and Ronan Farrow. I thought it would be a nice fall back. 

While at the Honors Retreat right before the Fall 2018 semester, I heard about the Northern Star and decided to apply. Since I was taking general education classes freshman year, I wanted to do something related to what I wanted in life. Within a few days, I was interviewed, hired and began writing articles. I had yet to take a single class and I was already writing film reviews for the Lifestyle section. 

I didn’t take any journalism classes until my sophomore year but I already was being molded by the world of journalism. If you are a student of journalism and you don’t work for the Northern Star, what exactly are you doing with your life? This is the best opportunity for print journalism that you will ever get at NIU. You work alongside fellow students. You cover events that impact your university. You get to see the diversity of this campus. 

I could list a bunch of stories of my time at the Northern Star, and I do have a bunch of them. What else could you expect when I’ve been a lifestyle writer, lifestyle editor, opinion columnist and senior reporter? I’ve had many delightful experiences including my coverage of the Egyptian Theatre, exploring different programs at NIU and even interviewing Oscar-nominated actor Richard Jenkins. 

But this paper has also been challenging. In spite of a massive pandemic, several of us stayed on and continued working. We learned how to use Zoom and keep doing our jobs. Because that’s what the Northern Star has always been for me: a job. Even when I wasn’t getting paid, I had the mentality that I would give this place everything. 

Being a journalist is hard. I mean exhausting. It takes you and beats you and it will knock you down if you give up. Sometimes there’s a source that won’t get back to you. Sometimes a story idea doesn’t work out. Sometimes you have a lot on your plate and you’re trying to find the time to write a story. You have to learn to deal with it. You have to approach this impossible way of living by saying “I can do it.” 

I’ve seen a lot of journalists come and go at the Star and I think I’ve been able to understand what makes a good one. First, you need drive and a willingness to work with others. The Northern Star is a place that values individual success but we are all part of a team with a hierarchy. We have to look out for each other and help other journalists with their stories. 

You also need thick skin to be a journalist. There are a lot of people out there who will tell you “no.” You have to move forward and get creative. You also have to humble yourself. When you work here, what sounds good to you might not actually be that great. Sometimes an editor will tear your story apart and you have to work with them because they want your story to be better. Even the great journalists had editors. 

Finally, to be a truly good writer, you need a strong work ethic. All of this can be learned but it takes hard work to do this job. You don’t get paid much, if at all, but you’re doing a public service. You’re informing people and telling stories. 

When I joined the Star, I started out writing an article per week for one section. Now, I work across multiple sections writing three articles per week. All of this I do alongside my work as a filmmaker and a student. If I told my 18-year-old self the kind of workload he’d have when he’s a senior, he’d probably question my sanity. 

But none of this achievement could be possible without all of the great teachers and mentors I’ve had over the years. I first would like to thank Sam Malone and Dylan Simons for teaching me the ropes when I first joined the Star all those years ago. I also want to thank all of my editors and reporters that I’ve worked with over my four years here including Jaime O’Toole, Haley Galvin, Jacob Baker and Yari Tapia. I also must thank the current slate of editors and friends who continue to inspire me every time I walk into the office: Wes Sanderson, Brionna Belcher, Madelaine Vikse, Jordan Radloff, Kurt Bitting, Abigail Lamoreaux and Elisa Reamer.

I thank Shelley Hendricks and Maria Krull for being fantastic advisers and for always providing words of wisdom to me. 

Finally, I want to thank my family, especially my parents and brother, for their love and support throughout the years. 

Working for the Northern Star has been a tremendous honor and I am going to miss this paper. However, I’m excited for what lies ahead. I plan on moving out to New York City in the next several months and working my way up in the industries of film and freelance journalism. There’s a lot I have to look forward to but I know that I can’t and won’t forget the excitement I have writing for NIU’s school newspaper. So, if there’s anything to take away from this dribble and ego-inflation, it’s that I say, “thank you.”