Being a leader isn’t easy as it is – especially leading a newsroom when you and others have fear in your hearts. On the night of Feb.13, a mass shooting occurred and left three students dead. As an English senior and Editor-in-Chief of The State News, SaMya Overall had to make well-thought-out decisions in the newsroom while grieving for her fellow Spartan peers.
One of many challenges being a student journalist is having to cover traumatic events while processing your emotions in the same moment. Overall reflected about her emotional well-being and tough decisions she had to make that were best for the newsroom and content in her column for The State News.
Overall said during the night of the shooting she handled the newsroom by using good judgment. She was focused on getting as many updates as possible out so that people would be accurately informed.
“So a lot of that (handling the newsroom) was a lot of just instinct type things,” Overall said. “And then going back into that next day, coming back to the newsroom being sleep deprived because we (staff) stayed up late…I just had to kind of go with my gut but like with a slow pace in the sense, I wasn’t acting right then.”
But although Overall was processing her thoughts while guiding the newsroom, she made sure that her staff didn’t overwhelm themselves while reporting the tragic event. Overall had sent one of her staff members who was on duty home because she saw the exhaustion in their face.
“Like I didn’t want any of the editors or any of our people to think that they were just the (only) ones that had to do anything,” Overall said. “I wanted them to know they could go home, we would be okay and they were still very helpful to us..so it was a lot of that, just like sending people home, telling people to take a breather, making sure they were okay.”
Kim Margolis, the student advisor at The State News said it was easy for her to provide additional guidance because her relationship with the editorial board is balanced.
“They (editortial board) let me suggest things to them and they take my advice,” Margolis said. “They have allowed me to create the situation where they truly let me advise them, which is my job.”
Overall recalled when she went to Margolis for the next step and Margolis reassured her by saying they’ll figure everything out together.
Margolis also said this was her second mass shooting as a journalist. Because of the previous tragedy (Dayton, Ohio 2019 mass shooting) that occurred during her time at The Dayton Daily, she knew what to do when it came to the coverage even though she wasn’t in any leadership at the time.
“I know what kind of things the public were gonna get mad about,” Margolis said regarding guiding student staff on what they should cover during a tragedy.
Margolis said when she was talking to her friend about the night at MSU, she told them that it was really a different night for journalism for her, due to the fact that she was supporting her students who were scared and advising them on the coverage.
In the column Overall wrote afterward, she expressed that “leadership can be a lonely feeling” because she knew she didn’t have all the answers to her peers’ uncertainty and had to realize it. Overall said she hoped that she had good judgement and hoped she did her job well at the time.
“Like I said in my column, there’s not really anything that guides you on how to deal with this situation, especially how to lead a newsroom through it,” Overall said.
Writing the emotional column was hard for Overall because it was too soon, but when the time was right, she did it with courage. Having a concentration in creative writing had contributed to her inspiration because Overall said writing is her passion and it’s what helps her get through the tough times.
Overall said the big challenge she had to face was dealing with people who didn’t agree with her decisions and it was difficult the first week after the tragedy. She told herself that she did the best she could.
“Like I said, no one in the newsroom knew how to actually deal with a shooting,” Overall said. “So I think it was coming to terms with a lot of like ‘I can’t know everything, you did the best you could, people (staff) didn’t get hurt.’”
Overall’s advice for student journalists who may be in leadership in their newsroom during a traumatic situation is to grieve and focus on the task at hand and be patient with themselves.
Just as she told herself, she also advises students to realize that being a leader in journalism is harder for anyone and you’re doing the best you can.
“So you’re gonna have to give yourself something to hold onto until you can get to a spot where you can just process things.”