Perhaps as a self-assurance that we were not yet stodgy journalists but could still be cool, ironic college kids when we wanted, here at the student newspaper, we save some of our best quotes from circulation and hang them up on the walls of our office instead.
These are the wall quotes. They’re a record of inside jokes, minor fuck-ups, temporary funny moments (often late at night) transformed by that semester’s staff to a permanent display of in-department culture. The oldest ones I saw, circa 2010, were crusty memes in 24-pt Impact that no one could figure out anymore. They’re mostly text-based, but like new media, they’ve evolved: You’ll find meta-quotes, fake stories, the Slack messages we feared might actually be available to everyone, via Public Records Act request (they are not).
They’ve been an unofficial tradition since who knows when, and an unorthodox one — many of the quotes fall far below our journalistic standards. Many are out of context, and some flirt with libel. Where there are pictures or graphics, the quality is 240p at best. But the attributions are always spot on.
Wall quotes don’t go through the usual channels of revision up through the Daily Cal hierarchy. They’re rushed into life with the fraternité of a French mob, declared by unanimous decree of “that needs to be a wall quote.” We hurry as if to keep the comedy from going stale. Anyone can get one, should the circumstances permit.
Student organizations are defined by their constant turnover. We all know this, despite the emphasis at orientation on our 146-year history. And there are even fewer now after the Great Purge of Spring 2016, when a rogue reporter ripped off quotes until the walls looked almost spartan. It made sense at the time: The campus was mired in administrative scandal, there was friction with important sources. We needed a war room, and this cleaner, meaner office fit the bill.
I felt a little weird, seeing how easy it was to strip the quotes away. It reminded me of death. But really what I regretted was having one less distraction from the laptop screen in front of me at the editor’s desk and from the work that would have to be done. I twisted in my chair hoping we’d have enough stories for the next day, that there’d be enough hours for homework, and for adequate sleep, and for something fun on top of that, to remind me I’m still a college student. Something like wall quotes.
Similar to the daily caffeine runs to Brewed Awakening, wall quotes were part of the culture in our student-run newspaper that we could come to expect. The sheer fact of that continuity, amid the constant attempts we were all making to locate and transform into our best selves, was worth celebrating. It felt good to admit, through meme-y irony, that we weren’t there yet, a way to brace against the impending exit to post-collegiate life, where mistakes would certainly not be enshrined in Arial above our desks.
Snapchats, butchered headlines, absurd corrections. Over one doorway the logo of a rival student newspaper. Underneath it, in red marker, “SUCKS!” and below that an exasperated sticky note: “Aren’t you tired of this joke?”
Almost, but not quite. I can’t be alone feeling this way, because rather than throwing out the old wall quotes, a lot of the funnier ones were saved in a binder that’s locked securely away in the managing editor’s desk.
The same key opens the courtyard, leading into the shared unit where Pulitzer-winning investigative reporters dwell. It’s a short trip and a very long one from the one place to the next. More than a few Daily Cal alumni have made it.
Meanwhile, I decided to leave early. I’m spending my last two semesters abroad, after many hours in this office the past three years. I’m going to miss it terribly. Last semester with a reduced role the fresh air felt nice. But like so many before me, I found myself making excuses to come back, if just for a moment — haunting the place like a benevolent ghost. To attend a short meeting. To say hi, or pick up a package, or launch a new effort to locate the headphones I will likely never find, hopelessly lost among piles of old food containers and newspaper.
I was drawn back to the rich memories hung up on the wall, noting that some were no longer there, what new ones had sprouted up in their place. Moving to a new country is one way to break the spell.
The biggest thrill for me at Berkeley was finding a community that I loved where I felt like an insider. And now I enter a new school far away, and a new stage of life, as an outsider. No matter how many silly wall quotes, the process of reassimilating is an inevitable fact of things.
I wasn’t thinking about wall quotes at all as a freshman. I was not optimistic about succeeding as a news reporter, and I didn’t want their editor’s jobs because they looked impossible. I sensed there was an invisible boundary between the desk where they all sat and the aisle of mismatched rolling chairs where the writers toiled.
The new place demanded a different kind of maturity that I didn’t have yet. But then I was sitting there, and I could not reliably find it anywhere. The feeling of my weight in the chair was less relaxed, more hopeful, the moment more impulsive, no less difficult. You’d do this job for a while, maybe leaving some good wall quotes while you could. You’d know that you could not entirely see or stop the place where you were going. And then, soon enough, you’d be gone.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion columnists have been selected.
Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.