From Jensen Werley: My student newspaper gave me a place to experiment

Name: Jensen Werley

College Newspaper: The Independent Florida Alligator

Where I Am Now: Reporter for BizWest (Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado)

Right before they tore the building down, I made sure to graffiti it in as many places as possible.

There was this urge to leave my mark on every surface of the old building. Ink was soaked into my college experience, and two years after graduating I wanted to leave ink in as many places as possible.

I started as a stringer for the Independent Florida Alligator when I was a sophomore. By then, I had finally garnered the courage to put my name in the ring, to shove my social anxiety aside and call complete strangers and ask for their thoughts on issues like flying home for Thanksgiving break or whether the Gator chomp is one of the best college traditions in the country.

The Alligator gave me the room to do those things. To experiment. To take jobs I didn’t think I would want upon graduating, like editing stories late into the night on the copy desk or shooting photos with a camera I was still learning how to use. It gave me space to get scolded for not asking the right questions by an older student editor, the same editor who would give me a boost of confidence the next week when I asked all the right questions. It gave me the chance to write stories about business, stories that I would write because it was assigned but not because I loved the subject. (Something that makes me smile to this day — every job I have had upon graduating has been in business journalism, a subject I have since grown passionate about.) I learned how to report in my classes. But at The Alligator, I was a reporter.

And so I had left things in that decrepit former fraternity house. I had left cookie crumbs from the bakery next store on the carpet, scraps of paper tacked to the walls with the funny things my friends would mutter to themselves after six hours of editing stories. I had left tears of exhaustion, frustration, anxiety. I had left the moments of joy and giddiness over pizza and States of the Union and discussions of new music. In that newsroom, I forged friendships that stand today and I learned about the industry and I learned how to get good at my job. I also learned what it’s like to have a local group protest your paper for reverse engineering UFOs inside. It seemed to me, with all those students coming through and doing something so pure — the art of coming together every day and putting together a newspaper — that the memories must stay in the foundation of the building, like an afterimage. Even when I heard they would tear the old newsroom down to make room for more Gainesville development, I knew that all that joy and frustration and sleeplessness would stay on the footprint that held it all: ghosts of student journalists past.

When it came time to tear the building down, as we slugged beer and swapped stories, I had an urge to leave more of myself in the building. I took Sharpie and wrote my name on every wall I could find, wrote funny comments about myself hidden in rooms I didn’t even know the building had. For a business forged in ink, I wanted to leave my own marks everywhere.
Later that night, I would keep the urge to ink going, as a group of friends and I walked into the tattoo parlor across the street and I got small “a” tattooed below my shoulder blade.
A for awesome. A for a legacy. A for The Alligator.

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