Samuel J. Robinson walks out of Faunce Student Services

Walking out of Faunce Student Services as a Heralder for the last time after finishing edits on my final Western Herald print edition. The school has closed access to the building, so I'll return to grab the stuff out of my office once these movement restrictions are over. I'm writing this caption in the first-person to say thank you to our readers and everyone who has taken an interest in our work since I've been here. I hope you'll join me in keeping up with the Western Herald long after I'm gone. - Sam 

For the sake of my convenience and yours, I’ll try to keep this short. 

I’ve spent the last three years publishing my work in the Western Herald. After climbing the ranks from general assignment reporting, working a beat, becoming a section editor, and finally editor-in-chief, I've learned what it takes to become a journalist.

Serving the Western Michigan community in this capacity has been a humbling privilege. If you’re one of the dozens of parents, faculty members or students that approached me to compliment the work of our reporters, our team and I appreciate you.

On April 25 I earned my bachelor's degree in public relations with a minor in journalism, which means this column will be my final piece of writing published for the Western Herald. I’d like to use the next few paragraphs acknowledging the people who kept me sane and are responsible for nudging me past the finish line. 

When I first joined Western Herald’s sports section in 2017, I had no experience in reporting. One of the first things I learned while working didn’t come from the AP stylebook, but the NCAA soccer statistics manual. 

My first story to make print was a profile on former WMU soccer star Brandon Bye, now a member of Major League Soccer's New England Revolution. My soccer acumen went about as deep as my faint recollection of Abby Wambach’s header against Brazil in the 2011 World Cup. 

I knew next to nothing.

Thankfully, Ross Hall, sports editor at the time, knew a bit more. I still remember his text after reading my story. It was the first encouraging message I’d ever received about my writing. It was a glimpse of purpose, in my otherwise uncertain future. The feeling I got from the process of completing a story became addicting. 

After my first semester with the Western Herald, I changed my major from business to communication: the best decision of my life.

My sophomore year I worked for WMU football's videography team, in assistance to their media department. So many mornings I acted as practice DJ, playing clean versions of NBA Youngboy songs from Waldo Stadium's speakers loud enough to hear from main campus. My role that lasted two seasons meant I wouldn't be covering the football team for the Western Herald, as to not create an obvious conflict of interest. 

I didn't mind.

I bounced around covering sport to sport, studying the scoring rules of volleyball, track and field and tennis. Reading and learning more after each story, patiently waiting for basketball season to begin. I knew writing about basketball, my favorite sport, was how I could show off my strengths — and I did. 

My coverage of WMU men’s basketball introduced me to the life of a beat reporter. Writing everyday raised the quality of my work and helped increase the section's audience, which current Sports Editor Seth Berry continues to expand each day. Man, has Seth carried the torch even further.

That’s hands down the most exciting part of this job, seeing undiscovered talent blossom. 

And what a talented group we had this year. 

As a 100% student-run operation, the coronavirus pandemic resulted in some unfortunate circumstances, but we’ve continued to rise to the challenge. As our campus shut down, our print run ended a month and a half early. We are unable to celebrate our graduating seniors in-person. We were forced to petition the university to deem us an “essential service” in order to continue our pay. 

While we were presented with unprecedented obstacles toward the end of the year, during the last two semesters we’ve seen unprecedented success. 

From Sept. 1, 2019 to May 1, 2020, westernherald.com was visited more than 250,000 times: a 484% increase from the same period one year ago. Our instagram account I began last spring, now led by Photo Editor Spencer Mathews and his assistant, Rodney Coleman-Robinson, is on pace to reach 1,200 followers by the end of this month. The quality of the account — largely the result of the acquisition of new cameras last fall — rivals our contemporaries at Central Michigan's Central Michigan Life, or Michigan State’s The State News. Upon my arrival, our website was about as aesthetically appealing as a classified ad website from the mid 2000s. Today, it’s as bright and user friendly as the newspapers we aspire to emulate. 

Our increased attention and intentionality of our presence online has finally transformed the Western Herald into a digital-first newsroom. Reaching our goals has been as challenging as it's been rewarding.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the people mainly responsible for our success during my three years at the Western Herald: most notably, three black women from Detroit. 

I’ll start with our former art director and 2018 WMU graduate Kayla Battle. Kayla and I share a love for good design, which actualized with the implementation of our current look. She's responsible for the creation of our current logos, page layout and masthead. Kayla was one of the hardest working and under-appreciated members of our team, who often served as mediator during some of our groups most embattled disagreements. While we missed her talent in the basement of Faunce this year, she ensured a seamless transition for our current Art Director Yanda “David” Li. Kayla’s vision and tutelage spurred David to direct one of the best looking print editions in recent years. 

Next, a rising star and a name Western Herald readers will see plenty more of come fall, is our Community & Culture Lead Reporter Aya Miller. Aya achieved some of the greatest feats we’ve ever seen from a freshman reporter. A news editor at her high school newspaper, Aya came to Western Herald in the fall without missing a beat. Often the first one there and last one to leave, Aya spent much of her time in our office the past two semesters to improve her craft. When we decided to change the name of our “Arts & Entertainment” section to “Community & Culture,” last spring, Aya was exactly who I envisioned to lead it. Her work on our Black History Month RSO spotlight series this February proved just that. 

Finally, to whom the Western Herald will forever owe a debt of gratitude, former News Editor Zoe Jackson. Since arriving on campus in 2016, Zoe has been one of WMU’s most talented journalists. Throughout her academic career, Zoe has reported on the Flint Water Crisis for MLive’s Flint Journal. Her coverage of a controversial policy change at St. Louis Park City Council meetings for Minneapolis’ Star Tribune was picked up by the Associated Press, subsequently prompting reaction from President Trump. Even after stepping down from her position before her final two semesters at WMU, her presence at the Western Herald remained. She’s been a great source of information and guidance for our younger reporters and has willingly served as the editor-in-chief’s editor every time I’m unsure or indecisive. Zoe has been as good of a professional connection as she has been a friend, and for that I am so thankful.

Through the Western Herald, I learned the fundamentals of reporting, audience development and team leadership. As a student journalist at WMU; my reporting was referenced in a campus wide email from WMU’s President Montgomery; I spoke to former Michigan head basketball coach John Beilien; stood 10 feet away from Kim Kardashian West and her daughter, North, while reporting on the last-minute debut of Kanye West's lazily constructed 2019 "gospel" album, Jesus is King;shouted questions to Democratic primary hopefuls inside the spin room at the July Democratic Debates in Detroit.

I’ve done everything I could have asked for and then some, learning more in my three years at the Western Herald than all my years in school combined. I'm excited and grateful to announce I'll begin reporting for MLive’s Kalamazoo Gazette in mid-May, where I hope to continue the relationship with our readers and community to learn more about Kalamazoo.

To my Heralders I didn’t mention: thank you. You were the engine that kept this thing running, and I appreciate you for providing the support you didn't know I needed. I'm looking forward to watching you continue to show why independent student journalism is essential to Western Michigan's campus community. 

Editor's note: I tried to keep it short. Sorry! 

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