Photo by Doménica Castro.
I’ve known Max James for years: as a friend, a roommate, a mentor and most relevant to this very article, the editor-in-chief of The Quad for the 2018-2019 academic year. So, I caught up with him over lunch for an interview about life after spearheading a newsroom.
Starting out, I knew he was in a great spot. “What I can say is that I am content,” says James, chuckling. He only jokes because he was presented with such an incredible opportunity and did not hesitate to take it; everything fell into place. Saying that he is content is an understatement.
His day-to-day life in his new career as a communications assistant with the Pennsylvania Senator Andrew Dinniman’s office would not have been possible without his experience as editor-in-chief.
“Quite literally, our faculty advisor, Ben Kuebrich was the one who sent me the email to apply for this position,” says James. In a more skills-based sense, James listed out the skills that helped with his smooth career transition that were all too familiar to The Quad staff: knowing the ins and outs of InDesign, working in a fast-paced environment, taking responsibility for work and understanding the necessity to learn from mistakes.
Not only did the role of editor-in-chief give him the skills he needed, but confirmed what he did and did not want to do, “I realized corporate journalism wasn’t what I wanted to do,” said James. “More than it gave me the skillset, it made me realize that I wanted to work for the senate, but in a way that allows me to use my communication skills and reporting techniques.”
Of course, Max James is a success story, but he would never forget his time with The Quad. He looks back fondly on the community formed within the office. All of us that were staff members under Editor-in-Chief James were students. We’d talk about school and stressful assignments, professors we’d have in common. The only difference between us all was the job title. “I don’t think that [office dynamic] is an experience that I’ll ever have again,” said James.
‘The best was when we would get a lead, and then everyone in the office would get so exited,’ said James.
Certainly, he loved to have friends in the office and get along with everyone, but that simultaneously brought the hardest parts of his job. There were times when he had to tell an employee—and a friend—to change something about how they were doing their job. Other than very few casual but firm conversations, the staff all functioned as a team.
The highlights of his year as editor-in-chief included the excitement of Tuesday meetings. “The best was when we would get a lead, and then everyone in the office would get so excited about that lead. I’ve never seen the inside of a newsroom, but I would assume it looks like that, just investigative.”
His day-to-day life in his new career as a communications assistant would not have been possible without his experience as editor-in-chief.
James pointed my attention to the fact that a lot of our stories would start with hearsay and that would turn into our front-page story the very next week. He stressed how important it is to keep your ears open and to not be afraid to ask strangers questions. Meeting strangers creates networks and networks are key in getting a great story out there. The Quad aims to give the student body a voice. Often, that voice will not simply come. It is up to us writers to seek it out.
James reminisced in goofing off during Sunday production days between piecing the paper together. At the end of the day after the last section editor filed out of the office, he would do final checks on the layout before the issue was sent to print. “I’d always be super proud and super grateful for all of the work every writer and every editor did to make the product complete.”
He mentioned the excitement on Mondays when newly-published articles appeared on every social media site. “I loved getting to see how people react to everything. The Quak was my favorite issue, it has to be,” said James. Our classic April Fool’s issue got more attention on social media than our newspaper had all year. That issue is always super ridiculous. Everybody loves to laugh!
When it came down to choosing which articles made the biggest impact during his reign as editor-in-chief, Max James couldn’t help but think back to Celine Butler’s “Sexual misconduct at WCU: Gaps in advocacy, transparency, and visibility,” and his own article co-written with our current Editor-in-Chief Sam Walsh, “Schmidt Hall trespasser raises security questions.” He mentioned that it set the standard of investigative journalism that The Quad continued to do as the year progressed.
During his time as editor-in-chief, James spent so much of his time and energy into making The Quad the best it could be and putting a lot of focus into issues as they came. In a general, graduated sense, James is glad that he didn’t worry so much about the future. “Coming from the perspective where things did work out, the more time, the more time you put into the present, the easier it will be in the future to find opportunities.”
Kirsten Magas is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in journalism and creative writing. KM867219@wcupa.edu