BEHIND THE WILLIAMS RECORD: AINSLEY O'CONNELL
(From On Campus, June 2006)
By Mark E. Rondeau
Ainsley O'Connell '06, helped guide The Williams Record through a period of change recently, while at the same time striving to uphold the high journalistic standards passed down through the years at the paper.
In the process, she has thought much about the role of The Record on campus and about the ever-changing world of mass communications outside the Purple Valley.
"You have the power to make a difference with what you write. You realize that once the truth gets out there, it does make things happen," she said of her experience with The Record. "And, I think that that's a powerful lesson."
"We see ourselves as a real newspaper," she continued. "It's not a newsletter, and we definitely run into problems when people try to use us in a way that we don't want to be used. We go back and forth in terms of, 'who is our allegiance to? Is it to the community as a whole? Are we supposed to be the voice of the students?' And I don't think we come down firmly either way on that issue, which is fine.
"It's better to have the ongoing debates about it, though I think on another level we are students and we do write and talk, we share our voices, as students," she said.
Ainsley, an English and political science major from Lake Bluff, Ill., concluded her four-year career at The Record as publisher this spring.
The Record is an independent, subscriptions-and-advertising-based weekly, founded in 1885, with a circulation of close to 4,000.
Ainsley took some time on a deadline day in April for an interview at The Record's temporary headquarters at the corner of Spring and Walden streets.
"The first story I did got me hooked on news writing. It was about an underground fraternity here, St. Anthony Hall. The Record had kind of known about it but had never gone ahead and done any reporting on it," she said. "I guess that was kind of a turning point for me on that story. I was really proud of it."
Having editors who were strict about high journalistic standards was important as she worked on the story: "They wanted me to double check everything, and that was also a really good lesson."
Ainsley applied to be an editor in the fall of her first year, and in the spring of 2003 she became arts editor, a position she held for a year. She next became executive editor and then editor-in-chief. As publisher during the spring semester this year, she has managed the business office and served as an editorial advisor.
Williams does not offer a journalism major, but Ainsley has received big-time journalism training in summer internships. She has worked as a reporter at the Chicago bureau of The New York Times, as a researcher with Forbes magazine in New York, and as a reporter for New York Newsday.
When she first became editor-in-chief of The Record, Ainsley would put in at least 40 hours a week and often more. But she felt much of that time was spent inefficiently, overseeing an overly laborious editing process and solving technical difficulties associated with old-fashioned printing techniques.
"It was just getting a little too much. We decided over that summer not only to give the paper a whole new look, and to add color and all those things that we've been talking about for a long time, but to rethink everything about the paper.
"We started transmitting the paper digitally to a new printer with color capabilities. We changed the whole editing process and decided that it didn't make sense to publish 22-page issues with 1,000-word articles that no one was reading. We decided we really should be printing 500- or 600-word articles, and a lot fewer of them, boosting the quality of our content by focusing our resources and our efforts."
By the fall of 2005, The Record had its new system in place, new staff aboard, and other changes ready. Ainsley's workload, and that of the other editors, was reduced substantially, without sacrificing quality.
After graduation, Ainsley will work in strategic management in New York City. "I'm interested in gaining some basic business skills so that I could either do business reporting or maybe go into the business side of media. So much is changing there right now," she said. "I thought this would be a good time to try something different, but I'll probably go back to journalism."
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