Missed deadline

Katy Abbott_online

When I started working at The Daily Californian, I was sure that I wanted to be a journalist.

I applied to the news department as my second choice, if only because I was afraid I wouldn’t get hired. As a copy editor my first two semesters, I looked longingly at the general assignment reporters who spent hours in the office calling sources and joking with one another. They seemed to have some sense of purpose that was lacking for me in the night department, perhaps because most of our job entailed writing clever headlines and replacing “less” with “fewer.” It was at a time in my life — first-year freshman, majoring in undeclared — where I craved purpose.

So when I was hired to the news department, I was ecstatic. I wrote a long-term feature. I volunteered for assignments taking me to Sacramento and the René C. Davidson Courthouse. I stayed up until all hours of the night covering protests and editing stories, feeling proud to be sharing the truth.

There was always the niggling doubt in the back of my mind about my chosen profession — I’m petrified of calling people on the phone, despite hundreds of interviews, and I’m bad at making deadline (case in point: I’m finishing this column four days late).

Moreover, I was starting to feel the fatigue that I think most journalists experience and must learn to push through. It’s the fatigue that settles in when you have to put yourself out there, time and time again, to talk to sources who resent you for prying. The fatigue when you find out that the people you talked to for a story didn’t feel heard. The fatigue when you write an emotional piece on some injustice, only to realize no one really cares, and they all think you’re fake news anyway.

I tried to keep pushing through. But at some point, I realized that I couldn’t ignore the weariness or the doubts. I didn’t think I could be happy pursuing a career in journalism.

This juncture came about as I was finishing up my last few weeks as managing editor, marking the end of a year of rarely sleeping, juggling content from 10 different sections and spearheading coverage of the rampant sexual harassment at UC Berkeley. Being managing editor was the most rewarding — and most challenging — experience I’ve had at UC Berkeley, and I don’t regret a thing.

But my dwindling confidence in my ability to be a reporter has been countered by a passion for science, spurred by summer research on soil moisture in Yosemite National Park. And the same things that I have found satisfaction in as a reporter — becoming an expert on the smallest of issues, analyzing others’ ideas — I am able to appreciate in science. I love working through a problem and stepping back to see it from a different angle, feeling that heady rush of euphoria when my simulation finally runs or my results start to mean something.

With newfound clarity, I overcorrected, tacking on research internships and taking as many technicals as I could. I avoided the Daily Cal almost entirely, casting it off as an outdated cloak of my younger days.

But you have to understand that there’s something about the breakneck pace of news and the absurd hours expected of almost everyone, even the most junior of reporters, that makes working for a print newspaper distinctly all-consuming. A huge part of my college identity is the Daily Cal. My best friends are in the Daily Cal, my group chats are constantly blowing up with office gossip and I’m a walking, talking encyclopedia of Daily Cal facts. Sometimes, it makes me a little sick.

Loneliness is a feeling I’m pretty comfortable with — although I think that’s part of the human condition. And yet, I don’t think I’d felt quite such an acute sense of loneliness since I pulled back from the Daily Cal. Suddenly, I no longer belonged to any clear community. I felt the organization’s absence so profoundly that I considered running for editor in chief this spring, even though I knew I’d have to cut back on research endeavors the following semester if I won.

Fortunately, I think I must have a pretty short emotional attention span, because I managed to put the Daily Cal on the back burner again this semester, and now the ache of loneliness is not as present. And while I still miss going to work at 2483 Hearst Ave. every day, I have found other joys in the funky spirit of my co-op and the curiosity of the scientific community.

There’s no clear lesson that I can draw from this up-and-down experience. That same sense of doubt that dogged my journalistic career is still present as I worry about pursuing field research. Sometimes I still wonder if I made the wrong decision. But if there’s anything that I know, it’s that the next few years of my life — just like the past four — aren’t set in stone. I’m lucky to be graduating with degrees from UC Berkeley and an unofficial minor in the Daily Cal, and maybe, for now, that’s enough to know.

I might still be uncertain about the future, but I’m not uncertain about who I owe thanks to:

Alex Wolinsky, my first boss, who inspired in me a sense of awe of the Daily Cal that persists to this day.

Kimmy Veklerov, for taking a chance on me.

Melissa Wen, who made spring 2016 worth it.

Suhauna Hussain, Addy Shih, Ivana Saric, Andrea Platten and Alex Yoon-Hendricks — the best, most bad-ass all-female news-editing team. You rock.

My family, for listening to me and providing the dose of realism I so desperately need.

My dog, because I’m sappy af.

My professors and research advisers, who have shared with me an abundance of scientific curiosity.

The grext, for encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone.

Cloyne Court, for giving me another sense of community.

Everyone at the Daily Cal that I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the past four years — may you keep shining a light on the truth.

Katy Abbott was the fall 2015 and spring 2016 managing editor. She joined The Daily Californian in fall 2013 as a copy editor before becoming a news reporter and assistant night editor in summer 2014 and fall 2014, and the night editor in spring 2015. In 2016-17, she co-led the Daily Cal’s digital archiving project. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in geophysics and applied mathematics.