Opinion – Reflecting on my experience as a student journalist


Andie Balenger/NW

DESK EDITOR — A picture of me sitting at my desk in The North Wind office, fully equipped with a black coffee that is spilled and a bag of Fritos — a seemingly natural sight as a journalist. When I first walked into the newsroom, I was completely unaware of the transformation this work experience would have on me.

Andie Balenger

Today marks the last week of publishing for the semester at The North Wind. For an institution that I never imagined myself working for when I first stepped on campus, my turning of a new leaf is bittersweet. Not only has my experience at the publication afforded me great work opportunities, but it also allowed me to get a taste of college life in a post-pandemic world. 

The North Wind found me during my junior year of college, which would be my second year as a student. An honors classmate of mine had read some of my assignments and told me I was a great writer. Well, her exact words were, “You seem like the kind of person who has a lot of opinions.” She wasn’t wrong, so I decided to try out journalism as a pre-law, political science student to broaden my horizons. 

After writing my first ever story, which was about Campus Cinema preparing for the Halloween season, I was immediately hooked. Talking to individuals, especially students, who are passionate about their areas of study or organizations was incredibly inspiring. I always approached an interview ready to be impressed by my peers and the wealth of knowledge they had to offer.

Instantly after talking with people, I was motivated to start writing. As I would drive home from interviews, the interviewee’s words began arranging themselves into a story. I made sure to write ideas down – from analogies to ledes – that I wanted to use in the story. If I couldn’t access my phone, I would keep repeating ideas in my head, adding on as the structure of the story came to fruition in my mind.

For context, writing is something that has always come easily to me. I would like to thank my parents for that because they used to make me and my brother write in journals every night. Those skills that I developed at a young age have allowed me to churn out in-depth features articles in just a few hours. 

But when writer’s block does hit me, it hits hard.

As I talked to more and more people as a journalist, I began to feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have such a unique student experience. While I did participate in on-campus events from time to time off the clock, I felt that I had a much more important job to be doing – detailing exactly what had happened for those who could not attend. 

I am so thankful for those who took the time to talk to me because their willingness to share their stories has allowed me and everyone else who has worked at The North Wind – past and present – to compile a beautiful archive of student life on campus for the past 50 years.

Having this work experience allowed me to put the techniques I acquired as a journalism student to the test, and my writing skills have seen such an improvement in the past year and a half thanks to that opportunity. But while I am seeking constant improvement in my hard skills – like writing – the lessons I learned from those I interviewed have been far more beneficial to my development as an individual.

When I first started writing for The North Wind, I met a couple who quit their jobs, sold all of their belongings – including their house – and decided to live in the woods. The couple had a young son and dog with them as well. I was fascinated by their story. The couple set out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a human being living on Earth, completely enveloped by the natural elements.

While the couple made this decision for personal reasons, a greater force and Indigenous movement on the sacred lands of northern Minnesota encouraged them to do so as well. They were joining the water protectors who were protesting a pipeline replacement project that was set to devastate the ecosystem the Anishaanbe people of the region depend upon. 

The passion this family possessed was moving, so much so that it made me realize I no longer wanted to be a lawyer. They taught me that I should not wait to pursue activities that make me happy.

About a year after meeting that couple, I sat down with several Indigenous members of the campus community to discuss their experience at NMU. The story of one student in particular and her return to Anishinaabe Akiing – the ancestral homelands of the Anishinaabe Three Fires Confederacy of Ojibway, Odawa and Potawatomi Indians – was uniquely inspiring. The Center for Native American Studies on campus guided her in the reclamation of her culture.

This student taught me the importance of understanding. She taught me that we must make a concentrated effort to work with, acknowledge and appreciate those who may be different from us, whether it be in appearance, language or beliefs. She also encouraged me to reclaim my Indigenous culture, which is a journey I recently embarked on.

Not long ago, I connected with a young woman who owns a curated thrift store in downtown Marquette. While free-spirited, she is dedicated to her mission of “stoking the wildfire of creative expression” as a store owner. In conversation with her, she told me that “we cannot afford to not have a mission in life.”

This phrase, and the work of that small business owner, taught me the importance of intent. As a now highly educated individual, who will head to graduate school in the fall, I cannot afford to take another step on my educational path without some goal. The change that I and every other person graduating this semester can create through the passion we have for our areas of expertise is so important.

While I have learned several other lessons as a student journalist, both good and bad, I intend to take the three qualities these individuals taught me – passion, understanding and intent – and apply them to every aspect of my life moving forward. I encourage everyone reading to do the same.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is a staff column, written by an employee of the North Wind. As such, it expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the North Wind Editorial Board.