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Posted by on December 16, 2017.

Guest Column: A high-profile media clash inspires a student journalist

In my semester as one of two managing editors of the Tufts Daily, there’s one constant: everything is always an emergency. Often, I say that sarcastically, but Nov. 21 gave those words new meaning as our small paper stared down a potential lawsuit from former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. The battle reinforced the importance of journalism to me, both as a student and in a larger world.

Eddie Samuels, a Brookhaven resident and a managing editor at the Tufts Daily newspaper.

Monday, Nov. 20:
I get into the Daily’s office — three small rooms in a basement in a long-forgotten Tufts building — around 6 p.m. Five nights a week, I and dozens of other students work until the early morning to put together a paper to be distributed to the school community the next day. In my role as managing editor, most of my night is spent fact-checking, correcting problems our copy editors uncover and doing a final check of our paper before it’s sent to our printer.

I get out of the office at 12:28 — a full 32 minutes ahead of our deadline. The day isn’t over, though; I still need to finish an essay my professor had been kind enough to extend past its original Friday deadline. I plummet into bed around 4 a.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 21:
I wake up at 10 a.m. and check my phone. Nothing of particular note. We received a new op-ed from a contributor who had previously written a pair of pieces supporting a petition calling for Scaramucci’s removal from the board of advisors at the university’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

At noon, I make my typical run to pick up a copy of our paper. I go to grab a bite to eat, mindlessly refreshing Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and emails. 12:08: I feel my phone vibrate on the table and reach to check it out. A new email: I’m sure it’s just another random emailing, informing us of some story that’s not a story.

The subject line: “Demand to Immediately Retract Defamatory Public Statements and to Cease and Desist from Ongoing Defamation.”

This was definitely not a typical email. Our opinion pieces had bothered a certain high-powered alum who spent 10 days in that White House job, before a profanity-ridden rant got him the boot. A brief series of texts back and forth to my fellow managing board members, and I was off to my 1:30 class. My phone never stops vibrating in my pocket and I step out to “go to the bathroom” and see 200-plus missed messages.

At 2:45, I get out of class, and at this point we’re in a weird holding position. Tufts is the smallest school with a daily paper, and we are completely self-funded by selling ads. We can’t afford to fight a millionaire in a legal battle, but we’re not backing down.

I leave Boston that night, headed to spend my Thanksgiving in St. Louis with family and, for the most part, we have our plan ironed out. We wanted to talk to an attorney from the Student Press Law Center to confirm that our understanding of the situation is right. At dinner one night, I pass my phone around the table as my family laughs at Scaramucci’s letter.

By Saturday, Nov. 25, our strategy is set. We’re going to run the letter on our front page, and publish it online at 1 a.m. On Sunday, we’re all back for production, and we’re ready to run the cease-and-desist the following day. Halfway through the night, however, we get an email from the Boston Globe asking for comment. There’s nothing worse than being scooped on a story about your own paper. We end up releasing the cease-and-desist a few hours earlier than we’d intended to, but we got the story up.

We expected some attention from media, but this story blew up in a way that we couldn’t have even predicted, with coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post. The majority of the media frenzy told the story about how we expected. The small, sympathetic, student newspaper won the day.

Scaramucci resigned from the board following the incident, describing it as “time to move on,” after a 35-year relationship with Tufts. In publishing an op-ed about the situation, our goal was never to force a resignation, and in fact, we were looking to talk to Scaramucci about the petition.

It’s an interesting time to be a student looking for a career in journalism. Cries of “fake news,” whether from a Twitter troll or a politician, are common. This incident, more than ever, proved that there’s a group of people in this country who believe that money and influence give them the right to bully and deprive others of legitimate viewpoints.

The incident was terrifying, but it was also thrilling. An attempt to stifle free speech ended up the largest story of the year and the most exciting night in the Daily office I’ve ever seen. These last few months have been frustrating, but rewarding, and this incident confirmed more than ever that journalism is what I want to do.

Eddie Samuels, a Brookhaven resident, is one of two managing editors at the Tufts Daily newspaper at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. He is a 2014 graduate of The Weber School in Sandy Springs.