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 email@example.com.
”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 columbiaspectator.com, 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.”