Senior reflection: the last column

I <3 Gavel

Last September, I thought I had cancer.

I had a discoloration on my forehead and hair loss in one of my eyebrows, so I made an appointment with a dermatologist to get it checked out. At the time I was just sick of people commenting on it and I figured I’d just get some medication to fix it. Then I showed up at the doctor’s office, and after looking at it for about two seconds, she told me that it might be cancerous and that she wanted to do a biopsy. I’d know the results in a week.

As you can imagine, that week was one of the worst of my life. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t look at my friends’ faces without wanting to break out and cry. I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE.

That week finally went by. I went back to the doctor, and she told me that thank God, no it wasn’t cancer. The discoloration and the hair loss were simply being caused by stress. Side note to any future law students – prepping for the LSAT won’t kill you, but it’ll mess with your head pretty badly.

The only positive about the whole situation (besides not actually having a terminal illness) was that the idea of having cancer forced me to think about what in my life truly mattered most to me. Ideally you’d be doing this on a regular basis, but trust me it’s a whole lot different when you think you’re about to have it all taken away from you. I realized that besides spending time with my friends and family, what really mattered to me was leaving something behind that would make those same people really proud.

Which brings me around to Gavel Media.

JOINING THE GAVEL

The Gavel was founded in September 2009, when I was a freshman. I joined the editorial board in January 2010 because during winter break, then-Editor-in-Chief Tue Tran reached out for a second time to an uninvolved freshman dude who had scribbled his name down at Student Activities Day back in September. For those of you who never met Tue, let me just say this: I owe more to Tue Tran than to any other BC student I’ve ever met.

I’d never written for a newspaper before college. I spent all my time in high school writing songs, rehearsing them and playing shows with my little garage band. We started from the bottom with literally no name recognition, but before I graduated we had played shows at the Paradise Rock Club, the Worcester Palladium and the Middle East Downstairs. If you aren’t from the area, yes that is a pretty big deal.

(My first Gavel article - Timeliness of 'Company Men' terrifies audiences)

So why did I join the Gavel? Two reasons:

  1. I wanted something to do and “The Progressive News Source of Boston College” seemed like a great thing to put on my resume.
  2. I wanted to build something due to what CSOM would later teach me is called “entrepreneurial spirit.”

Most of the members of the first Gavel editorial board were understandably already heavily involved in other organizations and were putting in time as a favor to Tue or as a way to boost their own resumes in preparation for job hunting or grad school applications.

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Rather than whine about it or quit, I took advantage, and before the end of my sophomore year it was decided that I would be Managing Editor when I returned from my junior fall semester abroad in London.

CHANGING THE GAVEL

Before I left for London, I didn’t have many close Gavel friends besides Tue. I didn’t think anything of it, until I joined the varsity basketball team at King’s College London (no, I did not tell the coach I was an exchange student).

In that one semester, I got as tight as I possibly could with the other guys on the team. Even though we only had official team sessions two or three times a week, we spent time working out, practicing or just hanging out literally every day. And nothing mattered to us more than winning basketball games.

When I came back, I wanted to translate that culture to Gavel Media (as it was now called). We weren’t going to be satisfied with just being “one of the student papers” anymore. We were going to work hard to put out great content every day, and everyone involved in the organization was going to be as proud to be a part of Gavel Media as I was to be a member of the KCL basketball squad.

(My favorite article from when I first got back - Secrets of Late Night from the Wrap Guy 3)

Gone were the days of boring all-text posts, replaced with beautifully laid out articles that always featured multiple links, images and videos. Besides proofreading posts before we published them on our site, I’d scroll through the previewed pages just to make sure they looked cool. Just compare that "Secrets of Late Night" piece with my first article.

Even more important than how we wrote, we changed what we wrote. Writers no longer were assigned topics. We invited people to write about what mattered to them, and not what they think mattered to everyone else. I hope that everyone involved in the organization now can’t even remember when this wasn’t the way things were.

GROWING THE GAVEL

If you wanted one sentence about what The Gavel was before I went abroad, I’d struggle to give it to you. If you want one sentence about what Gavel Media does now, it’s simple: we take the conversations that BC students are having with each other, and put them into high-quality, accessible and interactive articles that can go toe-to-toe with any other links they find on their news feeds, student-published or not.

(The best article I ever wrote - How to find love at Boston College)

The most important decision we made was the decision to be different. Media was and is rapidly changing around us. If people thought of us the same way they thought of The Heights, we might as well be competing with The New York Times. We stopped looking to traditional newspapers for inspiration and looked to online outlets like Buzzfeed, Grantland and even (gasp!) blogs.

Well before the end of the first semester of senior year, I knew that what we were doing was working. Our website had double the page views in spring 2012 that it did in fall 2011, and we’d nearly tripled the spring 2012 figures before finals even started in December 2012.

The underclassmen signing up for Gavel Media were a totally different breed than how I remember myself when I joined back in January 2010. They were choosing to make the Gavel their main focus outside the classroom, and they did it because they loved what we were doing. And what blew me away most was that their work ethic was just as strong as the people above them in the organization.

We went from scrambling for writers to having too many people in a room to assign content. I still can’t believe it.

LEAVING THE GAVEL

As I sit here and write this in May 2013, this semester’s page views on bcgavel.com sit at more than 10 times what they were the semester I went abroad. If I die tomorrow, I hope I’ve already made Tue Tran proud.

What matters more than the numbers though, is the people. Mason Lende and I used to worry that we’d never find anyone who cared as much as we did. We were wrong. By now I have more examples of why than I could count. Because of the circumstances surrounding them, however these two pieces stand out most vividly as the best examples of what I mean:

  1. Jenna LaConte – Making sense of the senseless
  2. Emily Akin – Thank you UGBC: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to headline Modstock

When you’ve spent as much time as I had by December 14, 2012 or February 24, 2013 building up an organization, it’s hard to trust other people to do the organization justice. You don’t believe that anyone else “gets it.” But in these two situations, we needed pieces written immediately and we didn’t have time to walk anybody through how to write them.

We trusted Jenna, and we trusted Emily, and they responded with pieces on the spot that not only captured everything that makes a Gavel piece “a Gavel piece,” but they did it with their own unique style in a high-pressure situation. They not only “got it” - they added to it.

It would be both false and unfair, however, to say that Jenna and Emily are the only ones who’ve done what I’m talking about. I said I can’t count the examples, but I can account the people behind them and all of them deserve recognition. I can’t explain how excited I am to continue watching this organization and its members grow in the coming years.

I can’t wait to see how Geena De Rose, Alison Ricciato, Jing Xu and James Cody continue finding the news BC students want to know and packaging the way they want it delivered.

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I can’t wait to find out what hilarious factoids, gossip and Twitter accounts Kate Tolkowsky, Itzel Ayala, Victoria Southwood and Christie Merino fill me in on before the rest of BC knows about them.

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I can’t wait for Kenny St. John and Tim Coogan and their awesome staff to keep forcing us all to think about the subjects considered taboo on this campus.

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I can’t wait for Sameet Dhillon, Sam Costanza and Rachel Forray to keep up the Gavel Culture section’s reputation for borderline-offensive swagger and creativity.

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I can’t wait for Teddy Kolva and Jake Miller to come up with even more new ways to cover BC sports in ways that no one else has even thought about yet.

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I can’t wait for Jillian Timko, Katelyn Crowley, Kelly Slater, Mary Yuengert, Lesley Wells and all the new recruits in the copy and design departments turning all Gavel content into something looking flyer than a parakeet.

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I can’t wait for the whole business department (too many of you to name!) to keep increasing the ad revenue and Gavel Media’s online presence with every passing semester.

I can’t wait for Katie Levingston to grow this organization into something more gigantic than it already is.

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I can’t wait for Jenna LaConte to guide it into something more powerful and awesome than I can even imagine it becoming.

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And I can’t wait to see Emily Akin doing my job better than I ever did it.

Goodbye, Gaveliers. I hope you all leave behind something that makes you as proud of yourselves as I am of you.

Love,

Rob

Gavel loves rob

P.S. Thank you to everyone else who spent time with me on the Gavel board or helped me in any way, shape or form with the Gavel since January 2010. I started making a list and it got so long I think it would’ve broken the Internet. You know who you are.

[Editor's note: Rob Rossi always wanted to end his last Gavel piece with this video. So we'll throw him a bone.]

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