Magazine Preview: Melissa Repko, Campus Character

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Illustration by Wendan Li

You might not know the following figure–but you should.  In Campus Characters, The Blue and White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared.  If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at

”After Buffalo, anything was going to be a step up,” says Melissa Repko, BC ’10, speaking of the summer she spent interning for the business section of The Buffalo News. “The work was great, but Buffalo is not a glamorous city.”

Despite her misgivings about Buffalo’s deficit in charm, Repko is not one for superficialities. After chasing news stories in Morningside Heights as a reporter for the Columbia Daily Spectator and serving as the paper’s Editor-in-Chief last year, Repko still maintains much of her Midwestern pragmatism, drawn from her roots in Ohio and tinged with an air of staid conscientiousness — she’s writing her thesis on the legislative presence of women in post-genocidal Rwanda.

With her short brown hair pulled back in an efficient, if unadorned, half ponytail, Repko refers to a trifecta of sacrifices to explain how she manages her duties at the Spectator and schoolwork simultaneously. When things get busy, which is just about always, “Eating, sleeping, showering are the first to go; for everyone else’s sake in the newsroom, I do my best with showering,” she laughs.

Pointing out a fundamental distinction between her own interests and commitment level and those of her fellow Speccies, Repko concedes “a lot of people do Spec because they think it’s fun. But I’m in the minority; I had to be serious about it because I’m serious about journalism as a career.”

Early on in her tenure as EIC, Repko, concerned that her staff was getting “so caught up in the day-in, day-out logistics that we were forgetting to have fun,” organized a joint managing board-corporate board bowling excursion to Harlem Lanes. “I hadn’t really bowled since I was eight at a birthday party; I forgot the importance of having bumpers.” Repko admits, “There were a lot of gutter balls and I am pretty sure I got the lowest score!” Although Repko was made painfully aware of her imperfect hand-eye coordination that night, “it ended up being a great way to do something together besides putting out a paper and I realized that putting out a paper was way easier for me than getting a strike!”

As the semester progressed, however, a decidedly serious, if not somber, atmosphere developed in the Spec newsroom, which Repko attributes to the economy. In the face of dwindling ad sales, the corporate board took a great deal of control. As a result, many new technological initiatives were put on the back burner. “I really was hoping to develop more multimedia and do more blogging,” explains Repko of her intentions for The Spectator website. “But we couldn’t make the kind of technological purchases I had hoped. We had to be more conservative with our budget for better or for worse, which often created resentment in the newsroom.”

“Times were tough,” says Repko’s successor, Ben Cotton, CC ’11, adding that clashes about the direction of the paper were inevitable. “This maybe led us to the October incident, as there was some sense that the organization hadn’t figured out how it was supposed to be progressing as a whole.”

“The October incident,” as Bwog reported it, refers to when “a group of managing board members, including now-former online editor Ryan Bubinski, [had] expressed unhappiness with the leadership of Repko and managing editor Elizabeth Simins, and [had] been meeting to discuss changes to the managing and corporate board structures… When Repko and Simins refused to allow discussion of the proposals at a staff meeting, Bubinski decided to take the website down until the demands put forward by the managing board members were met.”

Although Cotton indicates that “there were mistakes made by many, and I’m sure Melissa has her own regrets about how the process played out,” Repko herself maintains that the October incident “was a learning experience for me. I don’t want to label what was really just a blip as the biggest challenge of the job. The biggest challenge is always putting out the paper, making sure that our coverage was fair, and it’s easy to read, and it’s interesting, the biggest challenge is getting people to pick up the paper, to turn to, and to care about what we’re doing. Getting people to listen is 90 percent of the battle.”

A self-professed nostalgic person by nature, Repko says she has used this semester as time to reflect on her tenure as editor-in-chief. “By the end, you recognize your limits. Could I have done a better job? Sure. But you know what, I’m proud of my time. What I learned I’ll take with me and if I ever become an editor again, I’ll understand it better. For now, though, a year is enough.”

–Mariela Quintana

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  1. uhm  

    Ruined the spec.

    • Anonymous  

      Repko absolutely and thoroughly drove the entire paper into the ground. There was so much that could have been done in an environment as volatile as she experienced.

      And let's not forget that Repko and Bubinksi were screwing around on the side, right? Whole new level of hilarity.

      • Actually  

        He'd moved on to another member of the board when that happened. That probably added more fuel to the animosity between him and Melissa, besides everything else.

        The events of that year displayed new levels of stupidity that almost destroyed the paper. Maybe it qualifies Melissa as a Campus Character. At least it's over.

    • Anonymous  

      ben cotton and thomas rheil have not only saved/resurrected the paper, but have brought the spec to greater heights than ever. i won't pretend to know the details of the he-said she-said spec drama last year, but i am sure that repko wasn't a good campus character choice...

  2. Anonymous  

    Also, I find this bit hilarious:

    “I really was hoping to develop more multimedia and do more blogging,” explains Repko of her intentions for The Spectator website. “But we couldn’t make the kind of technological purchases I had hoped. We had to be more conservative with our budget for better or for worse, which often created resentment in the newsroom.”

    Hi Internet. This is blogging. It costs absolutely 0 dollars to publish nearly anything at anytime. It just requires a bit of innovative thinking.

  3. boring  

    i almost caught myself snoring

  4. omg  

    BOWLING?!! what an interesting story! and what an interesting tale this is about a campus group, too!

    oh wait...

  5. wow  

    this is the most boring profile i have ever read. article fail.

  6. troof  

    Yeah bwog, this is kinda boring. I don't know anything about the Spec fiasco but... this is not interesting at all.

    • uhm  

      Why are you surprised? Melissa Repko is boring. This is the same woman that stormed out of the Barnard meal plan meeting only to stop for a Barnard-catered cookie.

      You'd at least think she'd be interesting talking about herself.

  7. Anonymous  

    I don't know what she did or didn't do to the Spec, but she's definitely wrong about Buffalo! It's a great city, especially in the summer!

  8. anon

    Friends dont let friends manage and manage a trois.

  9. yea,  

    she sucks. what a waste of a campus character profile.

  10. Anonymous  

    You guys should get a new illustrator. You NEVER draw the lines on a 20-something woman's face - it makes her look 40, and like there are actual lines there. Tsk tsk.

  11. Anonymous

    i think it's the same person posting all this. she was a great eic, and i was privileged to work under her.

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