The Latest in a Long Line of Editors
Vivian Ho on the mission, and juggle, of running a student daily
Vivian Ho, this semester’s Daily Free Press editor in chief, says her mom is worried about her: “She says, ‘You’re killing yourself; you need to have a college experience!’ I tell her I am having a college experience. It’s just different.”
For Ho (COM’11), the latest in a line of hard-working Freep editors, college life includes “staying up 43 hours straight; take a test, write an essay, write a story,” keeping some semblance of academic life intact while riding the daily journalistic wave, getting out another issue of the paper, and then another, and another, and …
“After that, you walk out saying, I can do anything,” she says. “You get this feeling of invincibility.”
One of the first things Ho did when she arrived on campus two years ago was join the newspaper. She knew she wanted to write, and she knows she wants to be a journalist. Usually, she says, it takes five good stories before someone joins the Freep staff; Ho crossed that bridge with one piece. Then came the experiences all young reporters covet: covering a fire, a court case, city meetings, spot news, chasing ambulances. By last semester Ho was a news editor. At year’s end she was named editor in chief.
“The interview process was really terrifying,” she says. “It’s your friends, who know all about you. They surround you in a circle — 6, 10, 12 people. It’s dead quiet. And then they ask you the hardest questions and make you sweat it out.”
Questions and answers are drummed into Freep staff from the beginning: If there’s a campus-wide emergency, who do you check in with? If you’re walking home, and you see a student get hit by a car, who do you call? “That’s a trick question,” she says, because it’s better to call a photographer first, then your news editor.
Ho also believes she has a clear sense of the paper’s big picture. “Our job is to be the watchdog of this University,” she says. “At the beginning, I was writing happy stories; everything’s great! But no, my editors told me there’s always another side. You’ll always be told everything’s fantastic, but hey, you have to confirm that it’s fantastic.” This is far from “yellow journalism,” she emphasizes — it’s independent journalism.
Her commitment to the paper is intense, but not unique. Freep staff have been steeped in it, generation by generation, since the 1970s. “Everybody thinks the Freep is like a cult, and once you get in it you can’t get out,” she says, “but it’s not like that at all. It’s the funnest environment. It’s working with my best friends.”
Ho says she understands that the Freep is at a crossroads, grappling with many of the same choices and crises that print publications all over the world face. “My number one goal is to bring the Freep into the 21st century,” she says. “That means more multimedia, more slide shows and video on the Web site.”
Currently, the paper’s site is managed by College Media Network (CMN), a company that creates Web sites for hundreds of college newspapers around the country (in return for handling much of the advertising and getting the revenue from it). The Freep will stick with CMN for this semester, Ho says, but will explore options that could create more local control and flexibility on the site, hopefully boosting revenue from BU-based Web advertising.
None of which, she emphasizes, means abandoning print. “People are saying print is dead,” she says. “No, print’s not dead, and journalism will never die.”
As both editor and member of the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation that oversees the Freep, Ho well knows that the paper faces serious debt. Last year’s decision to cut back from five days a week to four to save print costs was tough to swallow (“I started to cry, when I found out,” she recalls). But she believes they will return to a full weekday schedule — “It’s just a question of when.”
That optimism extends to her conviction that, contrary to what cynics might say, students want to read stories that are not hooked entirely onto their own lives. “A better understanding of the city and its politics” is a priority, as well as continuing to offer opinion via editorials; expect endorsements of Student Union candidates (and sharp criticism of union activities, or lack thereof) to continue.
Ho is editor in chief for one semester, then passes the baton. This may not be ideal as far as leadership continuity goes, but it’s probably essential — stories are important, but there are course papers to be written and exams to pass. Some professors who know about her Freep responsibilities cut her a little slack, Ho says, and some don’t; that’s part of what it means to be editor.
“It’s all about learning how to juggle,” she says, but it’s also about the mission:
“The Daily Free Press was born on the wings of a revolution,” Ho wrote in an editor’s note in the first issue of the new school year on September 2. “No matter how fierce the recession, or how heavy our debt, we promise to continue challenging those who need to be challenged, and being the voice to those who need it most.
“Good luck this year, and viva la revolution.”
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Seth Rolbein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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