The Parting Class: Exit From The Exponent

A final farewell from a sometimes flaky reporter

Two and a half years ago, a very anxious and somewhat isolated college junior hesitantly stumbled into the Exponent office at the behest of a professor and a friend previously involved with the paper. They awkwardly kept their distance from the rest of the crew and barely said a word. They simply kept to themselves and overheard bits of conversation between copy-editing articles. The work was enjoyable, but they lacked the ambition to do much more than edit.

That is until the then editor-in-chief went out of her way to make me feel welcome and encouraged me to try writing articles the following semester. So, I accompanied her to an event to learn the basics of journalism, and the next week I wrote a story about two UW-Platteville music professors releasing a new album. (Honestly, the hardest part of it was having to hear my own voice in the interview recordings.) Thus began my time with the Exponent, where I regularly helped with editing, occasionally wrote stories, and, due to the COVID-19 pandemic (among other reasons), ended up taking a semester-long hiatus – all of which culminated in this fun final semester as an intern.

With that preamble out of the way, I can get to the heart of my experience with the Exponent: two years of new friends, appreciation of background work and learning that people are often not so hard to talk to as they seem at first glance.

Perhaps it should not have surprised me that everyone in the office was so welcoming and, before long, easy to talk and joke around with. Contrary to what I expected, the office and crew balanced levity and productivity very well, making for a relaxed setting to spend upwards of five hours editing in during production nights. We somehow always managed to finish at around the same time each night, depending on how many pages we had for that week’s issue. Everyone was – and still is – willing and eager to answer any questions about AP style, information in an article and ideas for edits. Barely a month or two went by before I felt like a proper part of the crew and counted many of the others among my friends.

I spent much of my time with the Exponent focused on “behind-the-scenes” work, namely copy editing, coming up with headlines and C-decks. Many stories that have come in over the years either needed those elements refined or added at the last minute. Personally, these little scraps of work have always been my favorite, especially when brainstorming with the layout editor to get the space filled as perfectly as possible. Before helping with the paper, I never stopped to consider the challenge of creating a compelling headline that also minimizes the blank space left on a page. The same goes for rewording individual sentences to make an article fit on the page; I recall at least a few times where several of us were crowded around one computer trying to work out little wording changes to finish a page. Figuring out a clever headline or getting the final tweak to make an article fit was, I think, the most satisfying part of the work. All these little details that go into the paper that no one ever sees have always resonated with me.

Before I get lost in these memories of mine, I need to touch on perhaps the most important experience I have had as a reporter: People are rarely scary or unwilling to talk to you. I started learning this while working on my very first story, which saw me reaching out to two professors for an interview and approaching several other strangers during an event. The professors were more than happy to answer a few questions about their work, and they even thanked me for covering the story. That experience – mainly how gracious they were – stayed with me and pushed me to continue writing about events for the paper. The sentiment held true through this last semester as well, with many of the people I reached out to express thanks for the attention my reporting brings to their work. All of this boils down to the lesson that people are quite nice usually, and if it were not for my time with the Exponent, I would have a far harder time approaching and talking to strangers – a difficulty which I think is all too common.

To wrap all this up, I would like to say thank you to the Exponent crew for being so welcoming and making production one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a Tuesday night (even when I could only manage to stay for a short while). I would also like to thank everyone who helps encourage reporters like myself to keep working through their general kindness and willingness to take time out of their day to answer a few questions. You all have made working with the Exponent a wonderful experience for the past two and half years. Hopefully, some of the articles you all helped me write touch people as all our small interactions have me.