Name: Jordan McPherson
College newspaper: The Independent Florida Alligator (Gainesville, Florida)
Where I am now: Sports reporter at The Miami Herald
When I think back to my time at the University of Florida, the memories almost always flash back to the Independent Florida Alligator. It makes sense, considering I spent more time there than I did my dorm room, in classes or sleeping.
But walking into that fraternity house-turned-newsroom at 1105 W. University Ave. two weeks into my freshman year was utterly terrifying.
On one side of the conversation were the editors, upperclassmen who seemed so confident, so ready to take on whatever challenges might come their way. On the other side was me, an 18-year-old wide-eyed newbie who knew he wanted to be a sports writer … Yeah. That’s about it.
I wholeheartedly expected a “Thanks for stopping by. Come back next year.” Instead, the staff took me in with open arms. Even when I doubted myself. Even when I made amateur mistakes early on. Even as I experimented with my writing.
So I continued making that walk a couple blocks off campus. Each time I walked into the newsroom, I felt accepted. I didn’t want to leave.
For three-and-a-half years, I didn’t.
It was the best decision of my life.
I grew as a writer and an editor. I learned how to craft features, write breaking news stories and deal with stubborn sources.
But just as important, I became part of a family that extended far beyond whoever was on staff any given semester.
We bonded over ledes and nut grafs, sleepless nights and endless caffeine, Election Night pizza and fried chicken potlucks. We pushed each other to get better every day. The high-quality journalism followed suit - just like the staffs before us and the staffs that will come long after us.
Even when the paper moved from that former fraternity house two summers ago due to financial setbacks, we weren’t fazed.
The physical home changed. Our purpose didn’t.
We laughed. We cried. We succeeded. We failed. We made a newspaper. We made a difference.
The Alligator and student newspapers everywhere are still making a difference. They need to keep making a difference.
Student journalism is not just the future of journalism. It is journalism. And most of the time, it’s damn good journalism. It needs to be supported.