After four years of moving up the ranks together, we sat down to reflect on our time at The Auburn Plainsman. This 31-minute conversation — that was cut down for readability purposes — goes out to everyone who came before us and everyone we’ll be leaving behind. Thank you for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Jack West: So, Natalie, it’s been a year.
Natalie Beckerink: Yes. A long year.
JW: What are your immediate takeaways from this past year in your management role?
NB: Well, I was already kind of nervous enough, taking on a managing role. I had to, well, you had the role for a few months for that last semester [spring 2020]. Before that it was Mikayla Burns and Lily Jackson, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill.
But I think we did really well. It’s a little biased. I mean, between you, me, Evan, all the section editors … we still ran a paper successfully, even when we didn’t have a print product anymore. Speaking of, how has this year been for you?
JW: It’s like you mentioned, big shoes to fill. Because we took over last May, so very much the beginning of the pandemic when we didn’t know a whole lot. I mean, that was back when people weren’t wearing masks because we didn’t have enough masks, right?
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Then cut to the summer, I was summer editor as well, and you have the murder of George Floyd, the ensuing protests, the calls for racial equity that came to Auburn as well …
So even before that, knowing the people who came before me — Eduardo Medina … Chip Brownlee before him and Corey Williams before him. I knew there were a lot of people who had done a really good job here and I wanted to do that.
We also have to talk about the other big thing that happened this year, when we went fully digital.
NB: I’ll never forget when we were sophomores and we were walking back from the old Bean. I vividly remember you saying, “If I ever become EIC we’re going fully online.” And I said, “What are you even talking about?”
It’s funny to look back at that moment. Then when you brought it to me in a serious light this year … it was definitely hard. It was always a print product and that’s what I was comfortable with, but I mean, as soon as you said it, I knew in my gut that this had been something that was long overdue.
JW: We’re obviously not going to sit here and rehash all the arguments that we’ve made, because we’ve been through that enough. But I think one of the things we really grappled with, one of the things we talked about a lot, was the writers.
We had grown up around this print culture and become friends, and we wanted to make sure other people go to have those same experiences, even if we were online. And now that we’re a month and a half into the decision, we’ve got people behind us ready to take it next year.
NB: More than ready. They already have ideas that I’ve overheard and plans to try new things and there’s this energy. And it’s bittersweet you know? It’s not something I’ll be a part of, but I’m so proud and ready to see what they do.
JW: I think one of our best successes, more than any front story that we did, is making sure that the next team is ready to take our spot.
NB: Yeah definitely. We had multiple discussions at the beginning of the year where it was like, “We need to make sure these people are ready to take over when we go.”
And it’s crazy when I look back. All the section editors, even Evan — who’s at the same level as I am — everyone has grown. These people are ready to teach, ready to lead, with a new confidence that I didn’t see at the beginning.
JW: For me it hit when I watched one of our section editors teach their reporter how to conduct an interview, some AP style tips, how to conduct a story … that’s when it really hit me that this exists beyond me, that this will outlive me by a long shot.
We’ve been talking for a while, and final takeaways are kind of cheesy, but we’re not just leaving The Plainsman, we’re leaving Auburn. You’re going a few hours north; I’m going a few days north. What has been one of your takeaways from Auburn? What do you feel like you’ve gotten out of the past four years — hurricanes, COVID and all?
NB: I’d say I’ve watched myself become a more confident person. I feel super ready to take this next step.
And I think the best thing that’s come out of Auburn, out of all the good, bad and ugly that the University can bring, are the people that I’ve met. Just finding people that have accepted you for your little quirks and idiosyncrasies, that has just been a really great thing. And even though I’m physically leaving it behind, it’ll never truly leave me — the memory of these people will always be with me.
JW: I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because I’m leaving the newspaper obviously. But I’m also leaving some professors that I’ve kind of built a relationship with that I incredibly value. I’m leaving some research behind that I’m doing that I’m actually very interested in, and I’ve kind of had to hand that off to people … and I feel like we’re leaving Auburn at a very pivotal point. There’s still a lot of questions that we didn’t answer.
My takeaway has largely been that this is an environment — Auburn University — that has been constructed by generations of people. Enslaved people, rich people and poor people. This is an environment that we have all kind of constructed and that we’re continuing to construct, and it favors certain people over others, but that doesn’t mean it always has to.
NB: That just made me think about how in student media, you get to hear the stories about the people who are fighting for rights for different groups, and you also hear from the people who have kind of held back and are on the other side of the table. But I appreciate that The Plainsman allowed me to be willing to hear those stories that were different from mine. Like, I will sit down, I want to hear your side. Not just sit and kind of listen, but I want to truly understand your position to the best of my ability.
JW: This probably needs to be our last point because we’ve been talking for a while …
NB: No yeah, this is just for us.
JW: Do you want to start a podcast?
NB: Oh my god.
JW: I don’t know, not that we’re wallowing in “Oh poor me, look what happened,” but we did overcome some fun stuff. We had, I think, the most diverse set of challenges thrown at us — covering rising COVID cases, the Black Lives Matter Movement in Auburn and then the reopening. We got kicked out of our office multiple times because of COVID. Our advisor, who is just fantastic at his job, had been here for over half a decade, left in early September…
We had a myriad of issues and I can’t say we did them all right, we’ve made plenty of mistakes, but we came out on the other side. And I think we made this a better paper in the same way that last year’s crew made it a better paper and the year before that.
NB: I mean, to pat us on the back, I’m proud of what we’re leaving behind. We took a crazy year, crazy is not even a word you can use to describe it, but a crazy scenario, just all that combined, and we did well. We took it and ran.
So, I guess my final thing I’ll say … Jack, it has been an honor to work so closely with that one kid I met from freshman year. Who would have thought we’d end up in this spot?
JW: No, it’s … it’s been incredibly honoring to work with you, with Evan, with Trice. Everybody else. This paper has very much defined my college experience and so it’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s exciting to be a reader and watch what next year’s group does, you know?
NB: Yeah no, the fact that I got to be a part of something as special as The Auburn Plainsman? I’ll absolutely never forget that.
Jack and Natalie both graduated on May 1.
Jack earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and history and will be attending Columbia University in the fall to work toward a masters in American studies.
Natalie earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science and will be attending Cumberland School of Law in the fall.
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