Past Falcon editor-in-chiefs reflect on how the position influenced them

March 8, 2017 — by Ashley Feng

The Falcon emailed questions to two of its past editor-in-chiefs, Henry Barmeier, a 2006 SHS graduate, and Sabrina Chen, a 2015 SHS graduate. Barmeier was an editor-in-chief during the 2005-2006 school year, then went on to graduate from Princeton University as well as receive a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship in 2010 to study at Oxford University. He now works in a non-profit consulting firm in San Francisco. Chen was an editor-in-chief during the 2014-2015 school year, and now is a sophomore double majoring in neuroscience and molecular/cellular biology at Johns Hopkins University, where she is an editor for the campus newsletter and also runs the Humans of JHU Facebook page.

Q: Did you pursue any journalism related activities in college or work?  

Barmeier: I wrote some long-form nonfiction pieces for a magazine and did design and layout for a business publication at Princeton. I haven't pursued any journalism after college.

Chen: I'm an editor on the Hopkins News-Letter, our weekly campus newsletter. I run the science and technology section which covers nationwide/world science news and recent discoveries as well as scientific breakthroughs on campus. Since Hopkins is a research university, there's always a lot to cover. I also founded Humans of JHU this year, a Facebook page based off of Humans of New York, aimed at connecting the Hopkins community through stories and portraits. I do most of the interviewing and photography for that site

Q: Did your experience as an EIC affect your college life? How so?

Barmeier: Yes, in many ways! First, after having the responsibility of managing a staff and putting out issues every month in high school on top of classes, sports and other extracurriculars, the first year of college felt pretty tame. Second, all of the reporting and writing I was able to do as a staff writer and section editor at The Falcon built my skills in independent research. Working on the newspaper helped me develop good instincts for tracking down key sources, conducting interviews with experts, synthesizing large amounts of information and reconciling conflicting perspectives, all of which are key aspects of quality research. Third, the editing aspects of the job made me realize how much I love working with writers to develop their ideas.

In college, I worked as a tutor and manager in the campus writing center, and met with students for several hours a week to discuss and strengthen papers they were working on. Fourth, I have to mention here that my experience as EIC was phenomenal preparation for the job I've had for the last five years at a nonprofit consulting firm. Both as EIC and now in my job, success is about asking the right questions, efficiently pulling together information from the right sources and working as a team to communicate the findings in a clear and visually compelling way, all under pretty insane time pressure. Also, I love teaching colleagues about things like "white space" and the "pica rule" — turns out they're pretty good principles for good consulting slide design.

Chen: Definitely, I fell in love with journalism through The Falcon … the ability to really make a difference through storytelling, and that's carried not only in my college activities but also in my everyday relationships. Though I'm not pursuing a journalism career, I feel that the skills I've learned from working on a publication are so applicable. I'm pre-med and I've been shadowing a lot of doctors lately. What I realized is that the best doctors are journalists in a sense … they listen to their patient, take notes, build rapport and in the end they are able to compile all this information in a coherent way. In that way I think what I've learned about interviewing and getting to know someone will really transcend into my medical career

Q: Is there any advice you would give to current EICs or reporters?

Barmeier: To EICs: Focus on building the skills of your staff. The better your team is, the easier your job will be.

Chen: I used to get The Falcon mailed to me and would go through it and send my favorite stories and layouts to last years editors (Ariel Liu). This year I talk with my sister (In-Depth editor Caitlyn Chen) often about her section and about the paper in general. I love to brainstorm package ideas with her and help her to see different campus perspectives. In terms of advice, I always like to remind reporters and editors that quality is over quantity. At the end of the day, I'm not proud that I wrote 12 stories some issues as a chickadee, the things I remember are the most difficult stories I did reporting on and the packages or layout I spent dozens of hours perfecting.

Q: How would you describe your experience as a chickadee (first-year staff member)? As a section editor?

Barmeier: I loved my first two years on the paper. I usually wrote 5-10 articles per issue, so I was always reporting, writing and revising something. I also made a lot of friends with people in the two classes ahead of me.

Chen: Overall I had a truly unforgettable experience on The Falcon. It really shaped who I was in high school. I'm incredibly grateful for the mentors I had, older editors and friends. It became my tightest social circle.

Q: What inspired you to become EIC?

Barmeier: I was really inspired by the EICs I worked for. I looked up to them, and aspired to lead the staff like they did (and have as much fun in the process as they seemed to have!)

Chen: I had really great EICs that pushed me to tackle some difficult stories in my junior year. As in-depth editor, I realized that newspaper was something I wanted to pour all my time into, and so I applied. By then I had developed a pretty great relationship with Mr. Tyler and my peers as well so that also factored in my decision to apply.

Q: What were some challenges you faced as an EIC?

Barmeier: There were constant challenges! The biggest was time management. There was always so much to do, and so few hours in the day to accomplish everything required to get the issue out the door on time. I had tremendous support from my co-EIC, Elaine Mao, who often put in many, many hours herself to help me and my staff finish the issue. I also pitched in when Elaine and her staff were on deadline. Then there was the challenge of running articles that not everyone was happy about. I give Mr. Tyler and the school a ton of credit for allowing The Falcon to have a very independent voice. This meant that we sometimes got criticized, but the quality of journalism was much higher since we weren't willing to gloss over problems at the school.

Chen: In my sophomore year a classmate, Audrie Pott, committed suicide after being sexually assaulted by three boys in our grade. In the wake of her death, the national media descended, claiming that photos of the assault had gone viral and that the “entire school knew.” After doing some investigative reporting, two of my editors and I published an article contradicting national press, countering that at most 10 students had seen the pictures: a far cry from the entire 1,200-student population. We received a lot of backlash from our peers who believed our article would make it more difficult for the Pott family. In addition, we were subpoenaed by the Pott family's lawyer, which meant he attempted to force us to give up our interview notes and anonymous sources. Another time, in senior year I wrote a story with my co-editor about a tutoring center that collected and used old quizzes to help their students get ahead. After publishing, the tutoring center tried to get us in legal trouble for defamation. In neither case did I actually get into legal trouble, but they were two of the most stressful times I had in high school.

Q: Do you remember any interesting stories about your time in newspaper?

Barmeier:  One of my fondest memories of my time in newspaper was attending a high school journalism conference in New York during my junior year. I was out in the city one night with a few other members of staff, and we ended up befriending an off-duty firefighter on the street who recommended an amazing Italian restaurant to us, and also helped us get standing-room-only tickets to a “Spamalot” show. It was a magical time, and bonding experiences like that with friends on staff made all of the many hours of hard work worth it.

Chen: On a happier note, I have many many positive stories from newspaper too … pranks during Secret santa, late nights spent discussing stories with friends, deadline nights...going out for food, a lot....and the j-room being my go-to spot senior year, and I guess just the people I met. My boyfriend and I most likely wouldn't have met if we weren't in newspaper together, so it's crazy to think that working together for two years would bring people together at such a deep level.