Q&A: ‘Bagpiper’ past editors reflect on their time on staff

By Allie Lincoln

Lea Downing: 2002
What year did you graduate and what was your position?
“I graduated in 2002 and was co-editor-in-chief with Angela Horn.”
What did you learn from your time on staff?
“I learned an incredible amount during my time on staff – much of which I wasn’t aware at the time would be so useful in my future endeavors. In terms of hard skills, I learned graphic design and layout approaches that provided a base for much of my design work in my professional life post-academia. I also honed a solid battery of copy editing skills that allowed my writing to grow from a grammatically and syntactically sound foundation. And of course, I wrote! A lot! And the practice of writing large amounts of text while paying mind to certain content elements like objectivity/subjectivity, clarity, direction, etc., helped me develop into a strong writer. Regarding soft skills that I learned, I learned responsibility and what it meant to feel proud of something successful that I was responsible for. I also learned how to work well in a team and that it is almost always true that we can do much, much more in a group than we can do by ourselves. Finally, and possibly most importantly, I developed a belief in the power of writing to affect change. Through this I developed confidence in my own writing and learned the power of my own words. This ‘lesson’ has served me every day of my life since I graduated from Floyd Central.”
How has the Bagpiper changed since you were editor?
“While I haven’t had much exposure to the current Bagpiper, from what I’ve seen here and there, it seems that one of the main ways in which the actual publication has changed has to do with printing and layout technology and format, given that now there are print and online versions. When I was co-editor, I think that toward the very end, we were able to bring in one color on the front page, which we used as an accent color; full color of any number of pages was a total dream. If I remember correctly, the Carmel H.S. paper had a full color front page with accent colors inside, and that seemed completely unattainable to us at that time. Also, while I don’t know with certainty that this is true, I am pretty sure that the current paper doesn’t have to manually cut out and paste together the quadrants of each page to be sent to the printer. There were many days at the end of our production cycles where we would be frantically pasting things up until the last possible second – catching a stray typo and then cutting out that tiny word and pasting it over the one with an error, lightening photos, etc.”
What is your most memorable experience from being on staff?
“While I had many memorable experiences on staff, I’d say that co-winning the Harvey Award for best news article with Angela Horn likely tops the list – coupled with actually writing the article that won the award. It was a complete surprise to both Angela and I. I’m not even sure that we were aware that our article had been entered for the award. The article itself dealt with a hot-button issue at that time: posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings, including schools. We conducted somewhere around 30-40 interviews in order to be able to explore the issue in a broad and balanced manner. It was a huge undertaking, but both Angela and I cared about the subject matter and wanted to make sure that it was being both confronted head-on and dealt with fairly.”
What advice do you have for current/future staff members?
“Jim Lang will likely be one of the most influential mentors you’ll have in your entire academic career. He strikes that very rare balance of being wholly supportive of students and their growth as writers, thinkers, and human beings while also knowing precisely when and how to push and challenge them. The class culture that he creates allows for intellectual exploration, creative experimentation, and full ownership over the final product. I encourage you to be present in your journalism work at Floyd Central, appreciate and utilize the incredible mentorship offered by Jim, and use the creative and expressive agency you’re afforded at The Bagpiper to become a stronger, braver writer. We are all always in a state of “becoming” writers, and – spoiler alert! – that state doesn’t really ever resolve into “arrival.” Collaborative workshops and writing projects (like working on The Bagpiper) allow us to be able to learn from one another and “become” the writers we are in a more punctuated manner. Post-high school life will likely not offer up such environments with great frequency, and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself in your mid-30s occasionally daydreaming about how much more might be possible in x, y, or z academic, professional, or creative engagements if they were more like your high school journalism classes. My ultimate advice is simply to soak up as much as you can of what’s around you right now. The things you’re learning right now at The Bagpiper will help your future self in ways that are impossible to predict, so just dive in, trust the journey, and know that you’re investing in something great within yourself.”
How did you time on staff impact your current career?

“There were a few teachers and classes I had while attending Floyd Central that I see as having been instrumental in getting me going on the path I’m on now, and Jim Lang and journalism definitely fall into that category. The path I took to my current work was at times meandering and circuitous, but writing, interview/conversation, and visual design have always been central to getting me there.

“I started college at a very unique school with a fixed course path, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, but after my freshman year of college, I wasn’t doing well, and it became clear that it wasn’t the right school for me – in no small part due to the fact that there were no outlets for creative writing within my academics. I spent a semester at the Santa Fe Community College to get my GPA up and then I transferred to Sarah Lawrence College where I had a dual concentration on writing and ethnomusicology. During that time, I had my first experience teaching writing. As a sophomore, I began volunteering with an organization called Right to Write, which offered creative writing classes at the Valhalla Women’s Correctional Facility outside New York City. It was a deeply formative experience for me as a future educator, and as many of the other teachers shared lesson plans around grammar and sentence structure, I made the decision to focus on one thing: helping the women to develop a sense of ownership and pride over their words and stories. As prisoners, they had little-to-nothing that was actually theirs. I wanted to create an unconditionally supportive environment, as the best of my teachers, such as Jim, had provided for me as a novice writer. At the beginning of the first class, there were students who refused to participate, even pulling their chairs a few feet away from our workshop table, making snarky comments at a distance. By the end of our semester together, everyone was at the table, engaged, writing together, listening to each other’s stories.
“While at Sarah Lawrence, I also spent a semester studying urban ethnomusicology at the University of Ghana and focused my fieldwork there on intercultural education. The interviewing skills I learned at The Bagpiper no doubt formed a solid base for the development of my fieldwork interview techniques.
“In 2005, one of my closest friends from college lost her father in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and after coming to visit her in New Orleans shortly after that, I fell in love with the soul of the city, even in her battered state, and decided that I would move there as soon as I graduated to do what I could to aid in the city’s recovery. Indeed, in 2007, I graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and moved to New Orleans. I focused the first year and a half of my time there on doing relief work with musicians in the city through an organization called Sweet Home New Orleans: doing one-on-one intake interviews to figure out what the musicians needed, advocating on musicians’ behalves to organizations distributing resources, writing grants, etc. Again – interviewing and writing were tools that helped me do the work that I was being called to do. I soon was connected with another organization called the Neighborhood Story Project, which worked with neighborhood writers throughout the city to produce collaborative ethnographic books about their own lives and communities. I served as their development coordinator and then program director for four years, and in that time I had the opportunity to help people in my community develop deeper connections to their families and neighbors through producing interviews, photo essays, and creative nonfiction that went on to be published in very successful books that reached national distribution while I was there. Additionally, I taught and collaborated on several adult creative writing workshops that produced zines, theatrical shows, and public readings. It probably goes without saying at this point, but interviewing, writing, and photography were key elements to my work, and my understanding of them undoubtedly had roots in my time on The Bagpiper.
“I attended the University of New Orleans for graduate school and received my MFA in creative writing in 2014. A period of professional struggle came after that: working as an adjunct professor teaching freshman composition, tutoring in a college writing lab, doing front desk work at a dentist’s office, editing books, researching for museums…it goes on and on. At times I had five jobs at once. It was exhausting and discouraging, but it was during this period of time that I found I had interest in an arm of education that I never would have considered being involved in: adult education (programs that help adults get their high school equivalency diploma and/or complete career-pathway coursework/certificates).
“For a year and a half now, I have been the lead English/language arts instructor in the adult education department at Delgado Community College here in New Orleans. My focus continues to be on creating supportive learning environments that encourage students to empower themselves through developing the writing and communication skills that matter to them – and leading my team of teachers to do the same. Teaching adults has allowed me to remain a student as well as a teacher; while some students are only a year or so post-dropping out of high school, most range from mid 30s to mid 50s, and they come with a whole body of adult life experiences and totally valid and effective knowledge, wisdom, and systems of logic that continually expand my understanding of the human experience. Key to nurturing my relationships with my students are maintaining good communication with them, being able to ask the right questions, and showing support through both the mistakes and the successes that come with learning new things. Additionally, I am working on a larger project with some of my colleagues to create a fully-free, fully-online adult education program that has already grown from about 100 students to over 1000 students in just over one year. All of the primary activities that I currently focus on for work have direct lines back my experience working on The Bagpiper. I am pretty sure I would not have found the kind of professional soul-satisfaction that I have had it not been for a few key experiences along the way, and one of the most influential ones, no doubt, was working with Jim and my friends on The Bagpiper.”
Chris Loop: 2005

What did you learn from your time on staff?

“Working on the staff was really my first perspective of why time management is so important. We all know that writing a paper and turning in homework have time constraints attached. I knew it before joining the Bagpiper. But working on the newspaper staff was different; it wasn’t just your grade that was at risk, but it was your reputation and relationships with with others that were at risk. If you didn’t do your assignment or task, the paper could look terrible or even worse – miss the print deadline. You don’t want to be the one to let the staff down. At the same time, you can’t do everything yourself. Our best issues were very collaborative and got perspective from the whole team. These takeaways translate to the workplace.”

How has the Bagpiper changed since you were editor?

“Certainly the technology is biggest and most exciting change, especially the online presence the Bagpiper now has. We would have to wait weeks to publish content. That’s laughable now. The drawback with being able to publish nearly instantly is that you have to work insanely fast to verify your sources, content, check grammar, etc. We may not have realized it back then but we had an eternity to correct mistakes before publishing compared to today’s newsrooms.”

What is your most memorable experience from being on staff?

“There are a few things that stand out. But mostly it was the evenings I’d spend after school in the journalism lab with Mr. Lang and the Bagpiper staff, putting together layouts and editing our work from the previous weeks. It was always a sigh of relief and sense of pride and accomplishment after hitting the ‘Send’ button to the publisher.”

What advice do you have for current/future staff members?

“I think understanding and fighting media bias, both within yourself and others on your staff is huge. We are seeing some many media outlets leaning right or left and it’s destroying our society. Being able to take criticism for your work without taking it personal and using that criticism to get better.”

How did your time on staff impact your current life and career?

“Working on the Bagpiper was some of the most challenging and rewarding work from my time in high school. Following the tenets of journalism – being objective, telling the truth, verifying your work, all while being interesting and relevant are incredible foundations in which to grow personally and professionally. These tenets are important no matter whether a person chooses journalism as a career or something else entirely. After college I landed in banking. I am currently a Vice President for a regional bank with a focus on sales and management. I believe that my time spent working on the Bagpiper and honing my communication skills, both written and verbal, have been critical to my success in the workplace.”

Jennifer London: 2007

What did you learn from your time on staff?
“One of the most important things I learned from my time on the Bagpiper staff is that there is more to school—more to learning—than just what can be found in books or on tests. Some of my most vivd memories of high school took place in the newsroom building relationships with others and learning how to be a leader myself. You can’t always find those kinds of “real-world” learning moments by filling in a bubble on the Scantron. I learned how to lead, to concede, to build others up, and to keep myself from being torn down by criticism.”
How has the Bagpiper changed since you were editor?
“The Bagpiper has changed in some pretty important ways since I was editor in 2006-2007. We were strictly a print-only publication back then, so we had the luxury of being able to really scrutinize what we published without the looming pressure of having to turn out a piece within 24 or 48 hours. I’m truly impressed at how well the staffs of the last several years have taken on the extra work of publishing online more regularly but also taking on the bear that is social media. How the audience interacts with the newspaper is so different today than 10 years ago because your work extends beyond the school building.
“Also, until my junior year, we had been somewhere around a tabloid or Berliner size, and when I became co-editor, we really wanted to push ourselves to do full broadsheet printing. It was a challenge—both with producing more content and better design. But it was something that I left feeling really proud of. We spent a lot of time at the IU summer workshop planning for those changes, so it’s a little weird to see it now in more of a compact format again.”
What is your most memorable experience from being on staff?
“Mr. Lang can probably speak for me in saying that the ‘duct tape incident’ is my most memorable experience from being on staff. In my 17-year-old wisdom, I published a somewhat tongue-in-cheek column criticizing the “hardcore/emo” kid look that was rampant at the time. In response to an illustration I created to go with the column (which depicted a “hardcore kid” sporting a black t-shirt with a duct tape “X” on it), dozens of kids showed up the next day sporting their duct tape “X” in protest of what I wrote. I was bombarded at lunch with angry students who then followed me back to the newsroom to make sure I knew I had upset them. There were also a few kids who wrote letters to the editor trying to parody what I wrote for the opposing viewpoint. Since all we had at the time was MySpace, I guess that was the 2007 version of going viral.”
What advice do you have for current/future staff members?

“My advice for current and future staff members is to give the publication everything you’ve got. Give it your time. Give it your energy. Give it your dedication. Those are the things that have helped build a legacy of journalistic excellence for decades. Even though the medium has changed and evolved, what goes into producing it hasn’t. The staff needs people of all talents with different passions, but what makes it work best is people who constantly want to make it better. Find your niche—whether it’s writing, creating interactive content online, editing, or (my favorite) designing.”

How did you time on staff impact your current career?

“When I left high school, I went to Ball State with every intention of majoring in journalism graphics. I did design and graphics for the student newspaper The Daily News. I interned at The Star Press and The Courier-Journal. I was made managing editor briefly for the DN. For a variety of reasons, I ended up switching my major to teaching, and I now teach English at Scribner Middle School and also supervise our yearbook and online newspaper. On one hand, my time on staff has lead me to think outside the box with my teaching so that I can give my students more of those “real world” experiences that I had in journalism. It has also pushed me to do more to teach my students how important it is to find something you’re passionate about in school. On the other hand, my time on staff has lead me to embrace my student media kids in middle school in hopes that many of them go on to high school with an interest in taking Journalism 1 or working for the yearbook and newspaper at New Albany High School.”


Darian Eswine: 2012

What did you learn from your time on staff?
“I learned so much from my time on staff, but I think the biggest thing was how to be an effective leader. I grew a lot in those three years thanks to Mr. Lang really showing me what it means to lead and to encourage a staff. I always remember he told me my senior year that you know you’ve been a successful leader when the group succeeds without you and I remember that each and every time I’m in a leadership role. I think I also learned the importance of being your own style of leader. Everyone’s personality is different and it’s important you lead how it comes naturally as opposed to trying to be a specific type of leader.”
How has the Bagpiper changed since you were editor?
“I think the design has changed quite a bit as it usual does over the years. When I was editor I think it was the first year print and web were split into two classes and I believe they’re one class now, which I think is great for team-building. Overall, I’ve seen it grow and cover more serious issues and I’m always excited to hear about the staff from Mr. Lang or see what they’re posting online.”
What is your most memorable experience from being on staff?
“Well, I have a real one that’s the most memorable that should not be printed so I’ll just say ‘Red Carpet Inn, IHSPA’ and let Mr. Lang tell you the rest of that story. For print purposes, my favorite memory was seeing the Avengers as a staff my senior year. We had a staff picnic where we played relay games and had little contests, water balloon fights, and food and then a lot of us went to see a movie after. It was a lot of fun at the end of the year, especially senior year, to hang out together outside of newspaper and just have fun. That was the closest staff of my three years. We really liked being together.”
What advice do you have for current/future staff members?
“Really enjoy the experience as cheesy as it sounds. High school newspaper is one of those experiences you can’t replicate – those three years are all you get to have fun with your staff, be creative, take risks and learn as much as you possibly can. Also, I think I would say to try to be really receptive to advice and lessons – take advantage of the opportunity to learn and grow from experiences not only as a journalist, but as a person.”

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