For most of my life, I doubted I had what it takes to be a journalist.

Don’t get me wrong — that does not mean I didn’t want to be one. After I found my way to journalism in the seventh grade through the YMCA Youth in Government program (shameless YIG plug), I quickly went from being the somewhat-shy-in-public-scenarios student to the boisterous-borderline-annoying student journalist who wanted to pursue the truth, hold people in power accountable and, at the end of the day, tell some cool stories. (Yes, I was a pretty strange kid.)

But wanting to be a journalist did not feel like enough. In today’s increasingly polarized, media-skeptical environment (put nicely), I had a lot of fears lurking in the back of my mind that I could not dispel. What if I didn’t ask the right questions and something terrible slipped through the cracks of my reporting? Could I possibly take on the responsibility required of journalists to challenge authority?

What would happen if I messed up and people suffered because of it?

Despite my college admissions essay that hinged on my desire to be a journalist, I wasn’t sure I would even end up being one. But thanks to the typically stubborn mindset that seems to plague most people who love journalism, I couldn’t just let it go. 

Enter, The Badger Herald.

Confession: I did not have any particular affinity toward the Herald before joining it. In fact, my dad (shameless Dan Gretzinger plug, class of ‘86) wrote for The Daily Cardinal during his time on campus. I really just happened to stumble across a BH new members meeting in a dingy-looking, would-make-my-mother-furious office.

Despite the lackluster office that I now call home — meaning I get the pleasure of cleaning it not as often as I should — I left that first meeting energized to write. The first few stories passed without incident as I stumbled through calling sources and writing articles in my attempt at the inverted pyramid.

Then I got what I saw as my first big assignment. But faced with the challenge of serving the concerns of students while also balancing the university’s perspective, I found myself terrified to write the story. Given the controversial nature of the situation, I knew my piece would be put under the microscope.

To make a long story short, it did not end well.

My story ended with angry emails and calls from a key source who thought I had wronged them and misrepresented them. The source made me believe I botched the story — put simply, my worst nightmare.

I fell apart in Bascom Hall. It felt like I got an answer to all those questions that plagued my mind — and the overwhelming answer was “no, Erin, do not become a journalist.” Crying and looking down at the newspaper with my name proudly printed above the article, I thought for a moment that the story would be my last, especially if the Herald didn’t want me back to write again.

Evidently, that’s not what happened. Instead, when I finally faced my editors and the mystifying “upper management,” they did something I didn’t expect — they supported me. We talked it over, and to my own surprise, I found myself not only conceding where I could have done better but also honestly and openly defending my reporting with the Herald’s support (shameless Mary Magnuson, Nuha Dolby and Lauren Henning plug).

This is quite possibly the longest lede ever, but what I am trying to say is this — the Herald gave me the strength and courage to keep trying, to keep pursuing journalism though I knew every day would be challenging. For the first time, I had to face the fears that clouded my mind about journalism. The Herald was the key to facing those fears. The Herald is why I am still pursuing journalism today.

I am not saying there is room for mistakes in journalism, but what the Herald showed me in that crucial moment is that there is room for every journalist to grow.

Since that story I wrote a long, long time ago, it has been the most wonderful, crazy and terrifying journey to grow with the Herald and the people who make the newsroom what it is. As I moved up the ranks of the Herald, I faced more angry emails and long nights and frustrating reporting roadblocks than I could have imagined. But I was never alone in facing my fears and making mistakes — I got to grow with the best student journalists and people who supported me every step of the way through this chaotic, challenging, COVID-19-tainted college experience.

We painfully joked our way through SSFC and ASM meetings that never seemed to end — that is, unless you’re one of the few fortunate reporters who somehow managed to avoid these meetings entirely (i.e. Arushi Gupta). We rewrote ledes together and groaned about WordPress errors. We fought to get responses from UComm in a timely manner and stood together through tough, necessary learning moments.

And it was more than just journalistic growth. After the final digital articles of the night had been published and you would think everyone would want to go home, we stayed — talking shop and trying to figure out the next big feature story, playing Bozo and disgracing the rules of Bozo (sorry alumni). When we weren’t writing stories or attempting Bozo, we strategized about how to win the next football or softball game versus the Cardinal (by the way, we won BOTH games this year).

We laughed about Will’s strange conspiracy theories, Arushi’s endless roasts and Mary’s drunk journal. We bonded over Savannah Kind’s fabulous game night (is she not the best?) and the scientifically proven stress-to-hair-loss graph. We took part in perfect Plaza nights and endless Slack pranks that always seemed to succeed in spite of their predictability. We found our best friends through the Herald after some weird girl we just met asked to be roommates (and by ‘we,’ I mean me — shameless Katie Hardie plug ❤️).

And when we couldn’t be together because of the pandemic, we had a silly talent show over Zoom as an end-of-semester celebration instead of a champagne night or formal. Despite the COVID-19 challenges that continued to plague the newsroom this year, we found ways to be together and grow together even when it wasn’t physically possible. I am still awestruck at how much we have accomplished and how much I have changed for the better thanks to the Herald.

If I have learned anything as editor in chief, it is that growth is not only expected of journalists but demanded. If you are not learning from bumps in the road or major and minor mistakes, you are not serving the communities that read your stories to the best of your ability. The Herald upholds this pursuit of being better every day. I see it in our stories. I see it in our staff. I see it in our family. (We did famously start as an experiment, after all.)

I am inexplicably proud to have been one small part of the Herald’s growth. At the same time, I know what I have gained from the Herald will always be more than anything I contributed.

The end of my time as editor-in-chief has been a bittersweet experience, but I do take solace in one certain fact — the Herald will continue to grow and persevere and thrive. That is what the Herald taught me to do as a journalist and person, and I am confident that what comes next for the Herald will be better, too.

Consider this the start of my “fizzle” and the next steps toward a brighter future for UW’s best student newspaper.

Cheers to growth, and #bh4lyfe 💙