Graduating staff members say goodbye: Diana Arbas

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May 2, 2012

I’m drinking from Lauren Sliter’s crack-strong pot of Starbucks coffee and eating a banana from Amber “Mom” Mendoza’s latest produce run for the newsroom. It is noon-thirty. It is my last student news production ever. This is wild. How do I even? Wow.

When the last print issue of my student journalism career comes out next week, I will perform my Tuesday morning ritual of tearing open a fresh batch of newsprint, unfolding one of the papers and wrinkling my nose at all the typos I missed in my section. Normally, I do not enjoy this form of self-flagellation, but I will savor it. Because you know. It’s my last one.

It’s my third semester on The Campanil, and all told I’ve churned out 21 long-form news stories; five special pages (e.g., guide to ASMC candidates); three breaking news stories (e.g., staff layoffs); a 1400-word Q&A and Twitter coverage of Mayor Jean Quan’s 100 Blocks plan, our Seattle college journalism conference, an AC Transit project and the College’s recent budget update. This doesn’t include my summer internship at Berkeleyside, year-long beat coverage of Laney College’s student government and co-founding a 24-page monthly magazine at Cypress College with a brilliant classmate who is now my partner of almost four years.

I have learned SO MUCH, most of which has never seen print. The real learning happens when a shy, quiet person like me feels scared to pick up the phone and call anyone from Kaiser Permante’s media relations director to the former Mills president Janet Holmgren. But I do it anyway. Or go to a bus rapid transit meeting by the Fruitvale BART station on a school night, approach AC Transit officials and ask, without flinching, how the painfully broke City of Oakland could possibly afford this project.

Other moments of real learning: Landing in a community college vice president’s office in 2008, mere weeks into what would turn into a four-year student journalism career, and taking the heat for a one-sided, poorly reported news story slamming the entire counseling staff and featuring uncensored f-words from frustrated students. There is nothing more humbling than living in the shadow of that terrible mistake and working hard to rebuild the reputation of a disgraced newsroom.

Or skipping a biology lecture to attend a forum for district chancellor candidates. I was the only student there. I listened to higher ed jargon I barely understood, and when the time came for each candidate to field questions, my heart pounded in my ears as I raised my hand and read a chancellor candidate’s own quote back to her: “Students are my true north.”

“When was the last time you spoke to a student?” I asked. My ears burned as I heard murmurs and whispers in the seats around me. Given the candidate’s stammered response, it was clear she wasn’t in touch with student life. An older man in a suit tapped me on the shoulder, asked if I was satisfied with the candidate’s answer. I wasn’t. That suit turned out to be on the district board of trustees. Someone else became chancellor.

But what I love most about reporting isn’t so much policing the powerful as it is just listening to people’s stories. Writing up the article is just an afterthought. The good stuff is in that phone call to the Mills alumna right after she gets out of court — she’s in law school — and I imagine her leaning against a wall in the courtroom lobby as she laughs about the time she house sat for former Dean of Student Life Dr. Joi Lewis. The alumna’s quotes never make it into the story, but they stay in my head. Or sitting in Dr. Joi’s office and watching her face as she talks about the day the students hollered at her in the Student Union, and how soft her voice gets and how heartbroken yet proud she looks, and I cannot believe how vulnerable she’s allowed herself to be in that moment. None of this makes it into the story, but it stays in my head and I think about it on the bus or at the grocery store and I can’t stop thinking about it.

There are a few stories you report on that kind of alter your worldview a little bit or challenge you in some way. The Dr. Joi profile was one of those stories. I’ve long been enamored with the idea of the lefty journalist taking down the Man, but listening and learning made me realize that administrators are people, too.

It’s these moments of learning that I feel deep gratitude for. Although it’ll be nice not to go batty being responsible for three News pages every week — whether I write the content myself or not — I’m sad to leave my on-campus home, this space with baby-blue walls, tons of free food and the good company of my ridiculously hardworking, hilarious colleagues.

Thanks to all of you who read each week, and thanks especially to everyone I’ve ever interviewed. You have taught me more than you’ll ever know.


Graduating staff members say goodbye: Diana Arbas was published on May 2, 2012 in Column, Opinions

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