The Daily Texan basement

Robert Starr, a Life&Arts writer since fall 2011, has been writing the Science Scene column since spring 2012.
Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: A 30 column is a chance for departing senior staffers to say farewell and reflect on their time spent in The Daily Texan’s basement office. The term comes from the old typesetting mark (–30–) to denote the end of a line.

I walked into The Daily Texan basement in fall 2011 with the intention of writing a weekly science column. That column became Science Scene, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.

Throughout the process, I’ve worked with two amazing co-writers — Paepin Goff and Ellen Airhart — who, in addition to directly contributing to Science Scene, have provided uncredited research, feedback and inspiration for articles with my name on them.

I’ve also had unbelievable editors who supported me even when I pitched ridiculous ideas. 

Kelsey McKinney didn’t flinch when I turned in a pro-marijuana Science Scene. She was also the one who encouraged me to write a piece on how to avoid hangovers.

Hannah Smothers didn’t alter a single word of my headline “Decision to circumcise is far from clear cut,” nor did she bat an eye when I sent her a Science Scene describing an experiment where researchers had subjects watch a pornographic film and reach into a container full of used condoms.

And nobody made me work harder than Kat Sampson, the current Life&Arts editor, who has zero tolerance for lazy writing. She kept me in the basement every week demanding rewrites until whatever complex topic I addressed was clear enough for all of our readers to understand. 

I’ve had many arguments with Kat — which have provided endless entertainment for the rest of The Daily Texan staff — but she’s also one of my favorite people on the planet and makes me laugh harder than anybody else I’ve ever known.

This is just a small fraction of the people that helped shape Science Scene into the column that I’m proud to have written. Part of me wants to continue, but, at some point, you need to let your baby grow up and walk on its own. 

After four years at the Texan, it’s time to completely turn my baby over to Ellen, who has a great eye for finding interesting stories and an imagination that I envy. Her Science Scene articles this semester — covering running injuries, listeria in ice cream and the not-so-albino squirrel, among other topics — give me confidence that the column is in very good hands.

I’m really going to miss recording the Science Scene videos with her.

I’ll still be around campus continuing to work toward my Ph.D. in physics, but I don’t know what the future holds for me after that. I do have a few hopes, though. One of them is to visit UT-Austin some day many years from now, pick up a copy of The Daily Texan and see that Science Scene is still going strong.

A man can dream, can’t he?

–30–

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

If you descended the stairwell into The Daily Texan basement during the two years I worked there, you might have found me poring over edits in the news pen with Matt and Sam or whispering numbers with Megan on our green couch.

You probably heard me laughing with Bobby, Christine, Zach or Jordan in the special ventures corner.

It’s likely I was huddled over Natasha and Jack at their desk, watching them design our stories, giving life to gray pages.

If it was a Sunday, Shabab and I were probably in the middle of an hours-long conversation in the managing editor’s office.

You won’t find me there after today, as my days at UT and this newspaper are over, but you can always find me in the Texan’s archive room.

It’s where my byline is buried in old newspaper stacks, next to the names of great reporters — some of whom I was lucky enough to work with.

It’s where I sat with my head in my hands for just a few moments before pushing through a long day or a rough week.

It’s where I’ve left behind long-lost pitch meetings and hours of making sense of complex stories.

That quiet room became my sanctuary at the Texan, as I somehow grew from a general reporter to an editor, thanks to the support and guidance provided by colleagues I admired who became friends I held dear.

But the old newspapers in that archive room won’t capture how much I admire our team and how we worked together to tell the hundreds of important stories this campus holds.

They won’t capture the tireless days and nights spent producing a quality newspaper on a daily basis, only to get up the next day (or a few hours later) and do it again.

They won’t capture the gratitude I will always have for all those who have kept the Texan going so that I could one day find my own way in that beloved basement.

Thank you to each and every one of you who have been a part of this.

I eventually learned to let go of my work space in the dusty archive room, leaving it behind to a new crop of reporters, whom I know will find the same peace there that I always did.

Letting go of the Texan isn’t as easy.

It isn’t as easy because it means letting go of the place where I grew more than I’ve grown anywhere else.

It means letting go of the fearlessness we all shared under that masthead.

It means letting go of the people I wish I had more time with and the ones that made it worth the ride.

It means letting go of a place that gave me so much and inspired me to be better.

So, I hope this helps me hold on to it for just a bit longer, because I’m afraid I’ll forget what it felt like working here. I’m afraid I’ll miss it all.

I already do.

-30-

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

The first time I set foot in The Daily Texan basement, I was afraid. It’s only fitting that I will leave it feeling the same way.

It was Aleks’ and Katie’s effortless superiority — as they sat at their throne made of office chairs and obscure pop culture references — that intimidated me in the beginning. Now, of course, I know those chairs have mysterious, permanent stains, and I realize that being in the know is a product of ignoring all your homework.

I am afraid to leave this place now, because what will I do without it? Without these people?

At the Texan, I learned to skirt the line between reporting and harassing. I learned that sometimes my best work comes pouring out of me in those hazy hours when the rest of the world sleeps. I learned how to float in and out of someone else’s life, asking difficult questions and forming the deepest possible connection on a deadline.

There is no place that has caused me more heartache or more happiness than the Texan. I’ve cried a generous amount of tears in that bathroom, while Kelsey held my hand on the handicap stall floor.

The basement has seen Hannah and me in hysterical fits of giggles. It was where I sought words of wisdom from Audrey and Aleks on a hard gray couch. I flitted around the office, making fun of Zach, but then Andrew made fun of me. 

I already had to miss Trey’s sweetness, Doug’s easy way of knowing and Susannah’s unexplainable quirks. I’m not ready to miss Shabab’s jerseys, Elisabeth’s awkward jokes or Mike’s ability to see through the bullshit.

I’ve loved sitting across from Jack, hearing his dad-jokes. Laura and Pu unknowingly inspire me with their style and attitude. I hope Pete still tells me about the new band he’s listening to, or that I can still find Alec napping in what looks like a yoga pose on the multimedia couch. 

The Texan has opened me up in a way no other experience could. When I walk across the stage this Saturday, it will be memories from the basement that fill my head and warm my heart.

It is not that I think all of these relationships will come to an end. Some of these friendships I hope to have for a lifetime. But memories fade. They’ve already started to, and writing a few words is just my attempt to hold onto them a little bit longer.  

I’m proud to have mistakenly called The Daily Texan home on more than one occasion, because that’s what you’ve all been to me for the past two and a half years: A home where I feel welcomed, challenged and loved, no matter what.

-30-