When I first arrived at the University of Memphis, I don’t think I would’ve believed my future self explaining my current life. I’m so drastically different than the suave, successful business student and track athlete I had imagined at 18-years-old, but the direction my career and life have taken me couldn’t be topped.
Within a semester, I had ditched the business route and taken a leap of faith into journalism. Sure, I would read the news from time to time, and I was informed about every trending sports story there was, but I soon realized I knew next to nothing about the art of reporting and writing in AP style.
I was also shy, which is absolutely absurd to anyone who knows me today. I couldn’t pinpoint when that timid nature left me, but I was certainly faking it until I made it. And I eventually did.
Joining the Daily Helmsman was a task I wasn’t sure I was ready for. I put it off at the start of the Fall 2019 semester, but finally worked up the courage to ask if I could still join by the middle of September. Of course, I was able to join the staff. I’m not sure the Helmsman has ever turned away a curious reporter, but a rookie freshman like myself couldn’t know that.
I quickly found myself surrounded by like-minded student reporters. And I finally started to make friends outside of my track and cross country pals. That comradery and busy newsroom were things I would come to know very well and fall in love with. For those who have never experienced a newsroom when something big is happening – you’re missing out. I never found myself much of an adrenaline junkie, but the rush from rapidly writing and calling people urgently simply cannot be topped.
But the pandemic hit in 2020 and completely changed the landscape of the newsroom. That wasn’t the only thing that would change for me as the fall 2020 semester rolled around.
Sometime in late April I was leaving the Starbucks on campus for the second time that day (my brain is fueled by caffeine and I apologize to the poor soul that comes across me before my morning coffee), when I got a call from Candy Justice – the Helmsman’s faculty advisor.
This was the first time I had ever been called by her, and my heart was in my throat. I was still pretty new to this whole reporting business, so my mind went to the worst. But to my surprise, she had called to ask me to be managing editor.
“Can I still write stories?” I asked.
“If you want, but it’s not required,” she replied.
So I took her up on the offer. And boy did I keep writing. With the pandemic keeping everyone in their homes, our staff dwindled to about five reporters and there were weeks where I would write three stories just to fill the paper.
Candy and I quickly became good friends during this time. I think I must’ve called her more than I called my parents as we went back and forth creating the paper and editing stories. I owe so much of my career to her, and I couldn’t imagine being where I am now without her guidance and our constant discussions. Her analysis and constant support have been the foundation of the student press at the University of Memphis, and she has empowered so many of my predecessors when she speaks to editors and reporters as equals.
But this year, as editor-in-chief, I have so many more people to thank. When the Helmsman staff grew upon our return to campus, it was clear to me – and even more so to Candy – that I needed more support. That support came from the exceptional reporters-turned-editors, who have become some of my closest friends in the department.
Aarron Fleming, the managing editor and phenomenal reporter in his own right, stepped up to the plate when called. He came in with a “I will exhaust everything before asking for help” mentality, and I’m not sure I could’ve survived the year without him. He tackled over half of the reporter assignments this year and his tech savviness pulled me out of countless sticky situations. All of this while carrying out investigative reporting I couldn’t have dug up even without my editorial responsibilities.
Carmen Darden, the social media manager and queen of the feature story, has single handedly created and maintained a social media presence in a way that, yet again, I could never fathom. Beyond her diligent social media work, Carmen would walk into the newsroom and immediately brighten it. Her positivity is unparalleled and that couldn’t be reflected more in her work. She has an incredible talent to spotlight those who have experienced great hardships and still find time to give back to the campus community and city as a whole – which Carmen encapsulated in every feature she wrote.
Then there’s the Helmsman’s first ever audio-visual editor, Jeremiah Hall. Jeremiah has his hands in so many pots that it’s incredible to me how he was able to produce our weekly podcast. He spearheads the Roar Radio Station and never misses a beat when I need help and advice about a broadcast or audio story. I couldn’t imagine the Helmsman’s multimedia element being where it is without him.
And last, but certainly not least, the Helmsman’s designer Dakota Smith – who has been with the paper longer than everyone but Candy. I struggle to put into words the amount of work Dakota has put into the paper and, second to Candy, was likely the person I had the most contact with throughout the pandemic. I have dragged Dakota through the deepest pits of Hell as a
designer, and he has never disappointed. Simply put, and I’m sure he has heard this after each paper and magazine, he’s a rockstar and the Helmsman wouldn’t exist without his work.
The Daily Helmsman has been a significant part of my life for the last three years, and it gave a kid from Flint, Michigan, a family in Memphis. The last year has been the hardest of my life, as I’m sure it has for many people, and my friends from the Helmsman have been there for me every step of the way.
So, from the editor’s desk one last time, farewell and thank you for the opportunity a young Lucas never imagined he’d have.
Lucas Finton is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Helmsman and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.