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My Time With The Beacon

Patrick J. Lawlor, Editor in Chief

When it’s 4 a.m., and the last cup of coffee is wearing off, you begin to wonder what you are doing and where you are headed. I had that feeling more than once over the last four years in the newsroom. The Beacon has been, for better or for worse, an enormous part of my life for that period. It started in September of my freshman year.

I had picked up an edition of The Beacon that had a feature on a new staff member; it was full of errors, even spelling “Merrimack” incorrectly. Because I’m cynical and critical and everything in between, I gave flack to Ashley Sarris, ’12, who at the time was a Beacon writer and cross-country teammate of mine. She suggested I join the paper if I was so unhappy with it.

Two issues later, with a bizarre column about dogs’ control of their masters, I was a staff writer. It was on page seven of the Oct. 9, 2009 issue, just below the column “Inside College Sex, Love and Dating,” which used to run on a regular basis. When I handed my mother a copy of the rag and told her to turn to page seven, she nearly froze — until she found my column at the bottom.

A few issues later, Sarris would be elected editor in chief, and I would be elected associate editor in chief, a new position focused on management of the paper. I mean, what did I know about running a college paper — a media business? Under the leadership of Mike Salvucci ’10, who in my eyes is the patriarch of The Beacon operation, I picked up some knowledge of what The Beacon was about. Salvucci gave us the confidence to chase a story, to develop some journalistic integrity.

I made some pretty big mistakes that year. Letting major errors get sent to the printer, writing articles way above my pay grade — in my defense, we were just learning. Later in the spring, news came that The Beacon would be somehow incorporated into a class, giving us a faculty advisor.

This is when I first met Professor Deborah Burns, who led the interview process that eventually gave us Jim Chiavelli, who would
literally be the savior of student journalism at Merrimack.

I had absolutely no idea what being a journalist was like until Jim’s direction, and boy, did Jim not know what he was getting into.
Someone supposed to be here three hours a week turned into the newsroom’s therapist, guidance counselor, life coach, and
tale-teller. Rising up the ranks, I quickly realized that taking heat is part of the job as an editor. Ultimately the editors are
responsible for everything that gets printed, and sometimes that’s an unsettling feeling. I always promised to defend my writers, no matter what they did, but also asked the same of them.

From student activities staffers, to student government officers, to the dean of campus life, to the chief of staff and the president of the college, all brought their share of complaints to my desk, and in nearly every situation, justifiably so. But what I take away from every time I get a tongue-lashing, is this: “People care what we are writing about.”

I have been cornered in the Den, and criticized on Facebook for story coverage, still I told myself: “They wouldn’t complain if they didn’t think we mattered.”

It hasn’t all been complaints. We helped re-shape dining on campus with our articles on lackluster food service, we helped make physical plant workers feel as if their jobs were safe, we wrote about our beloved food service workers, administrators who were pushed out of office, and students who shone on and off the field, We revitalized the importance of the campus newspaper, something that wasn’t done since the ’70s.

Walking into the Sakowich Center and seeing someone reading The Beacon is an honor, to this day. To know you helped people become informed, to know they’re actually reading what you wrote is a great feeling.

I always think to myself “wow, I put that in their hands.” And I suppose that makes up for all the times throughout the years I have heard, “Nobody reads The Beacon.”

This is my 39th edition as a staff member of The Beacon. When we wrap things up I will have been on staff for 40 issues. All very different, but the level of pride in each of them was the same.

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