Learning from the strength of those around me

Editor Victor Luckerson leading a budget meeting. CW File

Editor Victor Luckerson leading a budget meeting. CW File

Victor Luckerson

I don’t know how to convey what The Crimson White has meant to me over the last two years, so I will do what I enjoy most — tell a story.

On the night of April 27, I was at a loss for what to do. The tornado had blown through Tuscaloosa, but its unimaginable scope was still cloaked in the darkness. Our attempts to find a base of operations had become a logistical nightmare. We bounced between Reese Phifer Hall, the Tuscaloosa News office and the Office of Student Media in search of electricity and Internet. When the power cut off at the OSM a second time that night, we retreated to the basement. Rumors swirled that another cyclone was going to come barreling through campus. All night I’d been calling veteran editors and those freshly hired, unable to get through since cell towers were down. Our phones and computers were dying. Soon, our lone flashlight would be dead, and we’d be there, in the dark, with no way to tell the story that was unfolding right around us.

Then Brandee Easter, the print production editor, appeared. “I’ve got electricity and Internet at my house in Northport,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Along with several other graduating editors, Brandee’s last official day on the job had been April 21. Yet here she was, lighting a spark in our sullen basement. How? Why?

She said she didn’t know where else to go.

Sometimes, the mundane can prepare you for the exceptional. Brandee, myself and 20 other editors had already been working together for a year, and mostly our jobs had consisted of trying to make boring things interesting. We toiled over clever headlines almost on a nightly basis (“Hoop! There It Is” is both my best and worst writing achievement). We tried to make fun graphics out of things like parking permits and the Nick Saban statue. We sang in silly music videos for our own amusement as much as our audience’s. We put more posters and photos up in the office than we did in our own apartments. To be honest, we did not really operate in the world of high-stake scenarios.

But in a moment of crisis, Brandee had returned. She and several other editors had been instinctively drawn to the CW office. It was the one place in the city where maybe, somehow, we could make sense of what had just happened to us.

That night, we went to Northport. We planned our coverage while ambulance sirens moaned endlessly. We took whatever fear or terror or confusion we had and boxed it away somewhere deep down, where it wouldn’t interfere with the job, and we set to work. We didn’t stop working until May 4, a week later.

The things that happened in that week changed The Crimson White, as they did all of Tuscaloosa. The week changed the way we viewed our work, and it changed the way we viewed each other.

We learned to be brave, as staffers sacrificed their bodies and minds to go out and tell important stories. We learned to work together, trading our usual office bickering for a totally collaborative and supportive newsroom. We learned to be accurate, making mistakes in confirming student deaths, but learning from them and vowing to do better in future investigations.

We were sobered again and again, uncovering more tragedies with each article. No one among us laughed for the first three days. And when we returned to campus in the fall, we brought that soberness with us. Shocked at our own ability to make an impact in April, we took a harder look at our campus culture, and we told difficult stories. We drew praise and ire, more on both sides than we ever did during my first year as editor. But we were always looking to be constructive, and hoping to grow in our moral and ethical development with each investigation.

Certainly, none of this was on my radar when I became the editor of The Crimson White in April 2010. I foresaw no natural disaster, no Machine investigation, no SGA scandal or presidential promotion. I came to the CW with straightforward, concrete goals in mind, such as eliminating AP wire, growing web traffic and developing a social media presence. But the virtues I was taught after April 27 — collaboration, commitment, courage — are the ones that will stay with me, and I hope they will stay with future leaders of The Crimson White.

I did not teach myself these things. I learned them; not from journalism professors or media advisers, but from the hardworking men and women of The Crimson White who have developed from colleagues into lifelong friends.

And so I want to thank the reporters, copy editors, designers, photographers, web staff and community engagement staff of the past two years.

And, in particular, because I never said it enough when I should have, thank you to the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 editorial staffs of The Crimson White. Thank you for bringing my vision for the CW to reality. Thank you for caring about your work every day and transferring that passion to a younger generation. Thank you for bringing me out of that basement and showing me how we could make a difference in the world again and again.

Thank you.

Victor Luckerson was the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 editor-in-chief of The Crimson White.