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VIEWPOINT: So, why the Dec?

It’s currently 2:26 a.m., just a day before our last production night, and I simply cannot get a wink of sleep. Though exams should be on my mind, all I can think about is my last prod with the Declaration.

To be honest, I have no idea where to begin, but I can say that it’s been a ride: one wild ride. Over the past four years, I have found myself attempting to cradle the Dec. But, like an unruly infant refusing to stay in its crib, the Dec has flourished into a young child where I can only watch from a distance.

I first became involved with the Declaration through the Activities Fair. My first article was an interview; I skipped my PSYC 1010 class to run off to the Engineering School to interview Henry, the then-12-year-old of my year. From there, I became a constant contributor and sampled everything that I could. A little bit of Scene, a little bit of Literature, and a whole ‘lotta Humor. It eventually led me to make up my mind and take a leap of faith within my career path: instead of pursuing graduate school, I’d look into journalism.

Where it all started

For someone keen on writing and intent on pursuing journalism, perhaps the most poignant question I continue to receive is this: why not the Cav Daily? Why the Dec?

Ah, what a loaded question.

I can’t tell you how many people have asked me this. First of all, I find it a bit presumptuous because it undermines any publication that isn’t the Cavalier Daily. Look, I get it: why wouldn’t you choose the Cav Daily given its reputation, status, and quality of work?

But, to be quite honest, that’s exactly one of the reasons why I didn’t choose it. It’s not that I didn’t need the connections or the resources or even the fine-tuned structure that the CD provides; any leg up in the industry helps and working with the CD will certainly well-equip budding journalists for the industry. 

So, when people ask me why the Dec and why not Cav Daily, my reasoning may not appeal to someone looking to break into hard news, but I also knew that I didn’t need to lean on any organization for my career. I managed to land a journalism internship that I’ve been very proud of and our alumni have gone off to work at Bloomberg and the New Yorker, so I think we’re doing just fine.

My decision to join the Dec came down to the people. The people I’ve had the pleasure of working with have shaped who I’ve become within my collegiate chapter and have challenged my outlook on life. I know that’s vague, but what I’m trying to say is that the Dec can get really controversial and it does so unapologetically. It’s by far my favorite part of the whole shebang.

Each Tuesday, the Dec meets in the MAC lab (Media Activities Center) for its production night  — lovingly known as prod. Editors, photographers, and writers all convene in a circle each Tuesday night at 8:15 p.m. on the dot…and we’d all talk about our week and the crazy stuff witnessed on Grounds. It never felt like an editorial meeting, it felt like a bunch of friends hanging out on a Tuesday night.

The aesthetics of the Dec also drew me in. Technically, we’re branded as a newspaper, but nowadays we lean heavily on a news magazine stature. There’s always been a lot of creative freedom at the Dec. For a writer, perhaps one of the worst feelings is turning in a piece of work and seeing an entirely different piece published online. I’ve heard accounts of this happening at other publications on Grounds, but not once during my four years has this happened at the Dec. Edits are made when needed, but when they are made, the author of the original article is in the know before we hit stands.

We cater to a ripe readership of UVa students, faculty, and alumni who seek alternative and opinionated views of UVa life, culture, and broader issues outside the scope of our brick-built bubble.

The Dec is the punk-rock older sister swaying in the front of the crowd at a rock show. The Cav Daily is that guy from your calculus class with pressed pants and neat shoes headbanging his heart out. Neither type is right or wrong. Maybe you get the picture, maybe you don’t, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone didn’t understand our references.

Just your typical production night. See what I mean?

Only at UVA can you apply to a community service club and be rejected. This kind of exclusive atmosphere doesn’t appeal to me, and neither did the application process and the competitive culture I perceived that composes the Cavalier Daily. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive; journalism’s a competitive industry, but I have the rest of my life to be a part of a competitive publication. The application is understandable given the level of interest they receive, but the framework of the organization didn’t sit well with me — the April Fool’s issue they put out during my first year didn’t help either. This is not to say that the Cavalier Daily does not put out good journalism. I have nothing but respect for the craft and hard work that their staff puts into their paper (especially their A&E section, hot damn).

But as I sit back in my chair in the MAC and I listen to the laughs and chatter amongst the Dec staff, I can’t help but smile because, ultimately, I know that I’ve made the right decision for myself. You know what they’re talking about right now? Dogfish. And the practicality of Richard Simmons. Now they’re all leaving to get food and I can only hope they remember to bring me something caffeinated. It’s true that, at times, we get off topic and stray from our work, but it’s okay because it’s only 8 p.m. and we all know that we have a long night ahead.

I look forward to my long nights in the MAC. I look forward to spending time with our manboard. I look forward to printing on Tuesday’s: while others are vying to get to pint night I’m vying to barrel down the stairs of Newcomb so I can start on my layout.

But, I won’t lie to you, it hasn’t been all fun and games: at times, it’s been really hard.

When I first started out on copy staff, I was often frustrated by the lack of recognition we received from our student body. It’s difficult to invest so much time into something that means so much to you — and something that you know people would enjoy reading — only to be met with glazed eyes and confused looks when people meet you and ask: “wait, what’s the Dec?”

I’m really proud to say that that’s no longer the case.

When I interviewed for a scholarship last year, a dean sat on the panel who inquired about my management of the Dec. This dean said that our publication could come off, at times, as ‘irreverent’.

Dumbfounded, I gazed back at the panel nervously — mostly because, at the time, I thought she had said irrelevant, but I squeaked out an answer that slid me onto the next question. Only after I had exited the interview did I realize what this dean had said– and boy do I wish I could have had a second chance to respond.

Just because we don’t circle-jerk to all things UVA doesn’t mean that we’re irreverent.

One of our throwback comics.

When a university streamlines one publication, you must ask yourself: how does this encourage diversity of thought? I believe the Declaration’s satire provides a necessary service to the student body, just as the many publications trending on your timelines and newsfeeds do. Yes, we do post “irreverent” material– cue this meth article we posted last year, or our notorious Lawnie List that you’re bound to pick up — but that’s also because the Dec is a space that doesn’t play into the UVA stereotypes that so many of us inadvertently fall into. This culture of competition that thrives at UVA, one that can be so incredibly unhealthy, vanishes at the steps of the Dec.

This may sound counterintuitive; after all, running a publication is a lot of work. It’s a lot to manage a publication, apply to jobs, balance schoolwork, maintain a social life, go to the gym, get eight hours of sleep and make sure you have a grip, however tenuous, on your sanity.

But, seeing those crisp pages of a freshly minted issue is something that makes those long hours invested in the MAC completely worth it. Watching a first-year or a second-year, or, hell, a middle-aged professor, chuckling at one of our copies is enough to make my damn heart burst. I’ve poured everything that I possibly could into this publication over my past four years. And sure, if the College didn’t have those pesky requirements then I’m sure I could’ve poured more in.

But I gave it my all and I’m so so so proud of how far we’ve come. We’re in color again, which hasn’t been a thing in a number of years. When I joined, we were edging out to become monthly. Now, we’re inching towards weekly for print. We’ve launched a podcast. We’re doing video. 

I owe it all to a lot of people. There are so many thank-yous that I’d like to give, yet I have so little time and so little space to express my full gratitude.

Carly, Christie, Nick, and my entire staff: thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for everything. You guys form the compass that’s helped steer me towards journalism and I am eternally grateful for that. More importantly, I’m grateful for all the hard work that everyone’s put in each Tuesday night.

Without you, we wouldn’t have content to fill our pages with. The future of satire writing and comedy is one that is fairly unsteady given our terse political climate, but after managing a staff like the Dec’s over the past two years, I have high hopes.

And I wouldn’t trade the late Tuesday nights spent in the MAC for anything.

So sure, we may not have 14,000 likes on Facebook or the mammoth staff that our dear rival possesses, but I’ll tell you what differentiates the Dec from the Cav Daily: we only sometimes fine our members when they don’t show up to meetings. 

 

Signing off for one last time,

M