For as long as anyone can remember, the corner room on the fourth floor of the Student Union has belonged to the Daily Trojan.
Mona Cravens, USC’s director of student publications, has worked here for 40 years and says the newsroom has always been here, exactly as it is now. The editor-in-chief’s office, where so many decisions have been made and long nights have been spent, has stood there ever since a fourth floor was added to the building in the 1940s. And the balcony that overlooks Tommy Trojan and has an unreasonably spectacular view of Downtown has witnessed the comings and goings of presidents, provosts and faculty members alike — and was even the site of at least one marriage proposal.
Steeped in history as it is, it’s no wonder that the layout of the newsroom itself seems unchangeable. There’s the table for the managing editors in the center, impenetrable as an island fortress; the news desk off to the side, clearly indicating that the city editor is too busy with layout to socialize; the red couch facing the TV, ready to watch the latest presidential address or sports event; and the copy corner, walled off from the rest of the room by a plexiglas screen that may as well be a concrete barrier.
At least, this is how it seemed to me for many of the first weeks I spent in this room. As a freshman, I would come in to the office, too intimidated to talk to the managing editors working busily on pages at the center table and too shy to make conversation with the lifestyle or sports editors sequestered in the back rooms of the office. Everyone had their place, and everyone stuck to it – and this seemed efficient to me, but also rather lonely.
I’ve been an editor for almost three semesters now, and I’ve certainly experienced times when this rigidity is real and not just a figment of my over-analytical imagination. I’ve seen it on the faces of freshmen who, much like my past self, are afraid to break what seems to be a deeply ingrained balance by coming up to the managing table or moving around the room and talking to different editors and staffers. At times it’s worked out OK — and at others, it’s hindered the development of deep relationships between editors and writers and even restricted the flow of ideas from one editor to another.
But this semester, something is different. When I enter the newsroom now, I see not only editors hard at work on their individual pages and articles, but also writers, photographers, designers and copy editors who come in to mingle with other members of the staff and end up staying far longer than they ever need to. I’ve seen editors move into the main office to do their work in a more open environment where they can more easily collaborate, and sit at the managing table with ease, knowing that nothing keeps them from doing so.
What changed? The way I see it, a tightly-knit team of editors — the most closely bonded I’ve experienced during my time here — makes all the difference because these editors are more comfortable with each other, and in turn, pass on that feeling of easy collaboration to their staffers. Breaking down emotional barriers leads people to want to remove physical ones too — and that means working more closely together in one area instead of feeling isolated simply because of one’s position.
The physical space that the newsroom occupies has an enormous impact on the people that work there and the overall quality of the paper, in a much larger way than most people realize. It’s not just about being able to tap someone on the shoulder and ask them a question, but about feeling like we’re all part of one team, instead of individual units working on individual sections. The newsroom, in all of its 70-plus year history, may not have been designed to evoke this kind of intersectional collaboration — but maybe, after all this time, it’s time to create a new tradition.