I joined the staff of The Pioneer Log as Faculty Advisor in Fall 2013, making this 2021-2022 academic year my ninth in this role. At that time, the PioLog came out weekly. I remember getting an email from then Dean of the College, Tuajuanda Jordan, asking me to consider the position. Before receiving this email, I knew of the PioLog of course, but had no notion of it having a Faculty Advisor. The subject line for Dean Jordan’s email was, “A Service (of sorts) Opportunity.”
I appreciate now as I could not have then the ambivalence of that phrasing; from the beginning, my work with PioLog has been difficult to categorize. Dean Jordan described the position thus: “The students want someone who can be a sounding board for ideas/stories and someone who can provide guidance.”
Before this new sort-of-service opportunity could become official, my appointment had to be approved by the then Editor-in-Chief, Zibby Pillote. Then, as now and always, the PioLog was a student-run newspaper. Everyone back then, several deans and Zibby herself, impressed upon me that I would not have editorial oversight of the paper, and indeed that I had no real power in my role at all. I was Faculty Advisor, and my role was no more than advisory.
While I gathered that this lack of power was an issue of contention for past advisors, I did not mind it – in fact, I preferred it. I voiced my main concern at the time in my email reply to Dean Jordan: “For example, if a piece were published that was highly controversial, or problematic in some way, would the responsibility for it be partially mine?”
“The faculty advisor is not held responsible for the Pioneer Log. She is just to advise,” replied Dean Jordan. “It is important to note, as I mentioned in my original email, that the students do not want someone who they perceive to be bossy/overbearing.”
The students got to lead, I got to follow. Sounded ideal to me.
Zibby, a senior Rhetoric and Media Studies major, came to my office in Miller on a warm day in August. Our conversation was reserved, cordial. I learned then that it was her third year as Editor-in-Chief; she had taken on the position in the second semester of her sophomore year, and never left it. Knowing as I know now how grueling the position of Editor-in-Chief is, I still look back and marvel at Zibby doing it for 2 and ½ years, all the more so since it was a weekly paper.
Since Zibby’s time, I have worked with 9 Editors-in-Chief: Caleb Diehl, Guadalupe Triana, Allie McRaith, Drake MacFarlane, Peter Kranitz, Althea Billings, Hanna Merzbach, Nic Nerli and our current Editor-in-Chief, Ihsaan Mohamed.
A recent search of my email inbox for emails labeled “PioLog” yielded 1002 emails. When I think of each Editor-in-Chief, I have clear memories of the time we worked together, as if little to no time had elapsed. In my 18 years at Lewis and Clark, these are among the students I have felt closest to. It is hard for me to imagine my job now without PioLog in it. It is a treat of my week to attend our Monday editors and staff meetings, when I get to sit down at a desk in one of the Howard classrooms and watch these amazing students laugh and debate and support each other as they create one issue after another. I feel like it is a party I was cool enough to be asked to attend (or at least not get kicked out of).
People have asked me what my role with the PioLog consists of, and it is a hard question for me to answer. The role varies year to year, and always adapts to circumstances. A simple answer would be, I do what they need me to do.
But there are some consistent elements. I help writers identify who to contact as sources for a story; I suggest stories; if invited, I help edit stories. I advise and assist in planning for coverage of thorny issues. I field complaints and meet with administrators, faculty, and staff when an article causes consternation.
I take emergency phone calls from Editors-in-Chief; I make emergency phone calls to IT (sorry, Chris Stecher!). I buy huge vats of Red Vines or Goldfish crackers at Costco; I find chairs for the office; I line up Adobe licenses (thanks, Chris Stecher!); I troubleshoot an overheated office. Occasionally, but only very, I find myself going mama bear on someone who treats us poorly.
I see my most central role as that of supporting and advising the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor as they navigate the dozens and dozens of decisions they must make day after day. As I tell anyone who will listen, you would be amazed by all that these students do, week after week, to create this paper and make it the best representation of what is happening in our community that they can – and they do it on their own, with no journalism department, and an advisor trained as a French medievalist (that is me).
Congratulations on 80 years, PioLog! And thanks for inviting me to the party.
Molly Robinson is the faculty advisor to The Pioneer Log.