‘Inside UVA’: The Mechanics of a Student Newspaper
Audio: ‘Inside UVA’: With Ava MacBlane(19:32)
Cavalier Daily Editor-in-Chief Ava MacBlane talks editing, studying and acting on President Jim Ryan’s podcast, “Inside UVA.”
Jim Ryan, president of the University of Virginia: As you know, every now and then the Cavalier Daily writes an editorial that is somewhat controversial. So give us a behind-the-scenes of how you decide what topics, how you decide what position to take, and maybe clarify for those who are listening that the president doesn’t actually tell you what to write in your editorial.
Ava MacBlane, editor-in-chief of the Cavalier Daily : You do not and we are fully independent, and we’ll stick to that.
Ryan: Hi everyone, I’m Jim Ryan, president of the University of Virginia, and I’d like to welcome all of you to another episode of “Inside UVA.” This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the University, and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works, and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is.
I’m joined today by Ava MacBlane, a third-year student here at the University of Virginia and editor-in-chief of the Cavalier Daily, an independent, student-run news organization. Ava previously served as managing editor for the Cavalier Daily’s 133rd team, as well as the news editor and news senior associate editor.
She’s also a member of the University Guide Service, a dedicated thespian, who is part of the First-Year Players, and is a server at Fig Bistro on the Corner. Ava is a double major in Spanish and English with a concentration in creative writing. Born in Florida, raised in Chicago and currently hailing from Richmond, Ava has called many places home, including now UVA.
Ava, it’s a pleasure to have you. Thanks for being here.
MacBlane: Thank you so much for having me.
Ryan: So why the Cavalier Daily? Did you always want to be a journalist when you were a kid? Did you write for your high school newspaper?
MacBlane: I did. I did not have any dreams of being a journalist. I did watch “Gilmore Girls,” and I loved Rory Gilmore, whose arc is a student journalist. But I didn’t necessarily see, I didn’t see it for myself.
In high school I did journalism, but I was actually a sports photographer first. So my background was in – yeah, so I did a lot of photography. And I did a little bit of writing here and there. But really, I liked, I like taking pictures. But then when I came to college, I was like, “I’m going to be an English major, I think, so I’m going to try something new. I’m going to try writing.” And that’s kind of how I found myself on the path that I am at the Cavalier Daily.
Ryan: Did you give up photography?
MacBlane: I did a little bit. It’s really hard to, like, write news. It’s time-consuming. It’s more of, like, a passion or an iPhone hobby now, but I miss it.
Ryan: And what motivated you to go for the job of editor-in-chief?
MacBlane: It was a hard choice. I think I would be a little crazy if I didn’t hesitate a little bit at first, because it’s a big job.
Ryan: Yeah, I was gonna say, are you a glutton for punishment?
MacBlane: No, no, no, I had to be convinced. But I’m lucky Jen and Eva, who were the two editors-in-chief before me, have been, like, great mentors. And they were kind of the people that I was turning to when I was unsure. And they motivated me and helped me kind of believe in myself a little bit.
So really just the people that came before me, and I think the people that I work with now, are great motivators that I don’t throw up my hands and say “I quit.”
Ryan: Right. And so tell me a little bit about the job. What are your main responsibilities? What are your priorities? And how many hours a week would you say you put into the job?
MacBlane: It’s a big job, you kind of, like, wear a lot of hats. So I, obviously as the editor, that’s the easy part, I read and edit all of the content that we publish. So that’s kind of the nose-to-the-grindstone, in my opinion, work of just getting through everything.
But then you’re also kind of the president of the organization. So that’s the more projects, the bigger-picture management. And then another hat is like the CEO, because we are like an independent organization. So I have zero comm or marketing experience, but I’ve had to kind of be looking at budgets and looking at “how are we supporting ourselves?” and “how do you, like, run something as a company that does need to make some sort of profit or at least not run ourselves to the ground?” Yeah, so it’s, it’s a big job. It most weeks is a full-time job of anywhere from 30 to 40 hours.
Ryan: And how do you balance that with actually being a student? Or have you stopped being a student?
MacBlane: I hope none of my professors are listening to this. No, I do turn in my homework most of the time. I think this is something my mom talked to me about. But, like, I am always imagining that I’m, like, juggling, and as a juggler, like, I’m going to drop a ball. And my mom was like, “Some of the balls are plastic, and some of them are glass, and you just can’t drop the glass balls.” So sometimes I’m dropping a plastic ball and that plastic ball is like a reading for a class and sometimes the plastic ball is like an article for the Cavalier Daily.
So it’s really the balance, I think, is just about knowing what to prioritize and when and how to kind of shift those priorities for what I need to take care of, like, in any given week.
Ryan: And how does being a journalist mesh with having a concentration in creative writing?
MacBlane: That’s been sort of an odd overlap. I have always gravitated towards, like, I love like reading pieces in the Atlantic or the New Yorker that are kind of longer form. So the kind of, like, writing I used to do, I think was definitely a little, like, I liked a little pizzazz, a little, like, sparkle from that sort of background in creative writing. But then being a journalist is obviously different, because it is more cut-and-dry. But I’ve always, like, had fun kind of, especially for writers that our writing creatively, like in the arts and entertainment section, when you’re reviewing a movie, or like the food writers were talking about a meal that they’ve had, I’m like, yeah, like, that’s fun for me to read. So I’m, like, “Oh, like this is the kind of writing that I also like.”
Ryan: Right. So I wonder if you can talk a little bit about the policy around writing editorials from the Cavalier Daily. As you know, every now and then the Cavalier Daily writes an editorial that is somewhat controversial. So give us a behind-the-scenes of how you decide what topics, how you decide what position to take, and maybe clarify, for those who are listening, that the president doesn’t actually tell you what to write in your editorial.
MacBlane: You do not and we are fully independent. And we’ll stick to that. But it’s not a glamorous process; we have a group chat, and so everyone on the editorial board is in the group chat. And most of the time, we’re just kind of throwing out ideas based on what’s going around Grounds, sometimes kind of what’s happening in, like, the local sphere, or even on a state or national level.
And then really, we just, in nicer words, argue back and forth until we’ve landed on a position. And then from there, typically, there’s a person who drafts it, and then we all get together on Sunday, and we spend like 90 minutes hashing it out.
Ryan: Wow, how many students are involved? Roughly?
MacBlane: There are six of us on the editorial board.
Ryan: Wow. And when you take a position, is it one that you think? Are you trying to be representative of the student body? Are you trying to put out the position that you think is correct? If that makes sense? That is, is it the best argument wins? Or is the best argument that this represents the view of the student body?
MacBlane: Part of what’s nice about the editorial board is that there are a lot of us and I think we are a fairly representative group. That’s been something that there are, like, sort of metrics in place to make sure that there are people coming from different backgrounds who sit on the editorial board. So I like to think that we’re usually in line with what the student body thinks. But obviously, we have our own opinions. There’s definitely a lot of compromise. Like, we don’t usually land at the same place that we started along the way – we’re kind of going back and forth and hashing out the nuances and stuff. But I like to think that we are fairly representative of at least where we come from as students and we’re a fairly diverse group.
Ryan: Right. But it’s not like you do, like, a student survey or something and then the results, right? So who are your rivals in the student newspaper business?
MacBlane: Well, our humor section is always at odds with the Yellow Journal.
Ryan: Oh, an internal competition, right?
MacBlane: Yes, well, they – and I will say they are funny – they often poke fun at the Cavalier Daily, but I will give them credit where credit is due. I will be objective.
Ryan: Having been on the receiving end of some of their humor, I can also say that they are funny.
MacBlane: Just even when they’re like, like really, really coming at you, they are funny. So I think the Yellow Journal in humor and comedy. WUVA is another, WUVA. They do a lot of video stuff, which we don’t do.
But I would say most of the other publications on Grounds kind of fill their own niche. And I think we have our niche. So there’s no bloody battlefields in the student journalism world here, I don’t think.
Ryan: But you don’t keep your eye on other college newspapers. There’s not like a standard-bearer among college newspapers.
MacBlane: I don’t think so. One of my sort of, like, goals this term has been to kind of understand how other student newspapers work, because honestly, I don’t know a lot about how other papers operate. I hope that there’s no competition; I definitely think that we all have a lot to learn from each other. So it’s mostly just kind of, “How do you do things? And how do we do things? And how can we improve from each other?”
Ryan: Right. So in addition to being editor-in-chief and an outstanding student with a double major, you’re also involved with the First-Year Players. This may seem like a silly question, but why as a fourth-year are you involved with the First-Year Players? Were you held back?
MacBlane: No, maybe my juggling will fail me and I will need to be held back, but for now, I’m on track. I love First-Year Players. So it’s called First-Year Players because first-years are the only groups who can actually, like, perform in the shows. And the idea is that you can get your foot in the door as a first-year and you can be on stage because sometimes it’s a little bit harder to get involved in like bigger UVA Drama Department production.
Ryan: Oh, I see.
MacBlane: Yeah, the biggest thing is the community. So I’m here because of the community and also because upperclassmen run it as, like, a CIO. So we do, like, the organization; these are the people that are doing the tech and the sound, and then supporting for students just through having a place for them.
Ryan: Oh, that’s great. So you help them put on the performances?
MacBlane: Yes, that’s how the upperclassmen work for FYP.
Ryan: That’s great. And I understand you’re the resident BOPE; I’m sure everyone already knows what that means. But for the one or two who might not, including the person asking the question, could you explain what that role is?
MacBlane: I’m so glad that you asked. The BOPE is short for “bagel Pope.” I cannot tell you where the religious imagery comes in, but my role is – it starts from a long tradition in FYP. And every Monday morning, I lead anyone who wants to come to the Bodo’s on 29. And we all get bagels together at 8 a.m. And that’s how we start every single Monday. Yep.
Ryan: That’s a good tradition.
MacBlane: It’s so fun. I love it. It’s probably my favorite tradition ever.
Ryan: Can outsiders drop in if they just happened to be at Bodo’s at that time?
MacBlane: I’m sure we would welcome them.
Ryan: OK. All right. All right, and because apparently you don’t like to sleep, you’re also part of the University Guides. How long have you been doing that? And can you still do it while you’re editor-in-chief? Or no?
MacBlane: I can. It’s again, sometimes I’m dropping those balls. But I’ve been in Guides since, I guess, fall of last year. And I still give tours when I can. But no, it’s I love Guides, I think it’s a great group. They’re all a really awesome group of people and I’ve really enjoyed being a Guide.
Ryan: And mostly, I have heard great reviews of the tours. But sometimes I’ve heard criticisms that they’re lopsided in terms of what is discussed about UVA’s history. So in an attempt to maybe counterbalance a completely rosy view, it’s a completely unrosy view. Do you think there’s merit to that? Or is that just an overreaction?
MacBlane: Well, what I will say about Guides is that we all write our own tours. So you kind of, as a student, get to decide what you want to include. Like, I think when you come to UVA, you have that personal responsibility as something to grapple with as a student. And so I sort of presented it as, if you come here, and if you decide to call UVA home, like, you need to understand what that history means and how you are going to understand it as a student. So I think it’s important, like, I think that is something that you kind of have to talk about if you’re coming to a place that is filled with so much history. So I think, yeah, I think it’s necessary. And I think it is balanced by the other sort of traditional tour facts and information that you get.
Ryan: And when you do the history, do you go up to the present? Because I think that sometimes the dangerous thing is to stop at, say, 1950.
MacBlane: We always encourage people to actually go on historical tours, because the history stuff is just so short, it’s usually like 10 or 15 minutes. I typically talk about the sort of founding of UVA, and then I do like to connect it back to like, students right here right now. I think that’s sort of the most important thing is how, again, are we, like, learning and grappling with history? And how are we using our understanding of it to make UVA better?
Ryan: Right, yeah. So last but not least, you’re also co-director of Oral Histories at UVA. What is that project?
MacBlane: So that was started by another Guide – her name is Logan – she worked with some other people to get it off the ground. And it is basically a project that collects oral history. So sort of podcasting like this, and of stories of people who – one of the big sort of collections that we have that we’re slowly and surely sorting through is descendants of enslaved laborers here at UVA. I just processed an interview with Debbie Stroman. So just some people whose stories are – maybe, they don’t have a chance to tell their stories. And then reflection serves as a place that kind of houses as, like, not personal objects, but places where you can go and, like, listen to people’s stories in their own voices.
Ryan: Right. So going back to the Cavalier Daily, so what’s a little bit on your agenda for the coming year?
MacBlane: Well, we have a lot, like I said, it’s a lot of a lot of hats. A big thing for me is the sense of community that I think that Cavalier Daily provides for a lot of people. My year, like third-years now or fourth-years – sort of graduating fourth years are kind of the last year that didn’t really have, in my view I guess it’s the first year that had COVID is like a really marked part of our college experience. And I think we’ve lost a lot of senses of community. So I’m trying to build that back and, and help students like find a place where they can be students and learn and grow and fail and do all that good stuff and also be among a group of people that they like.
Ryan: How do you help foster that?
MacBlane: A lot of it is I think being in, like, I’m in our office right now. And just on the other side of this wall, our copy staff is having their final shift, which is a very slow shift. Like I always joke, they’re usually gossiping with each other, which I think is what they’re doing now. So being able to, like, offer space has been really nice.
I think also, like we, we like each other, I hope, I hope that people agree that we all like each other. So it’s I think, like, a lot of it is they understand the work that you do, and you understand that it’s important. And you also understand that we’re all kind of on the same team and we’re on each other’s sides. We’re here to support each other.
Ryan: So can we do a lightning round?
MacBlane: Yeah, hit me.
Ryan: OK. So I understand you’re a big reader, some favorite books and some favorite authors.
MacBlane: I’m in a short story kick right now. So I just finished “Liberation Day” by George Saunders. And I love Billy King, who has written a couple of novels and other short story collections. So those are the two. I’m definitely in a short story kick. I’m also reading a collection that was edited by David Sedaris, but those are a few. A few good things.
Ryan: I love David Sedaris. Alright, any favorite novels?
MacBlane: Ah, it changes all the time. I did – my English professors will be proud of me – I read “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf. And I didn’t think I was going to like it because I usually tend towards more contemporary fiction, but I really liked it. I was pleasantly surprised. So that’s on my list right now.
Ryan: Good. So I understand you currently live with six people and have a tiny kitchen but still like to cook. What’s your favorite dish to make in a tiny kitchen?
MacBlane: Oh, man, the tiny kitchen is rough. I am a big, like, throw a bunch of stuff onto a sheet pan because it’s easy, and it doesn’t take up any space in the tiny kitchen. So I will roast like all of the vegetables that are beginning to rot in our overcrowded fridge, and then throw them into a bowl and like, call it a salad. So lazy cooking, but efficient cooking.
Ryan: Also sounds healthy, too.
Ryan: I also understand you are a fan of doing crossword puzzles and can do the New York Times mini crossword puzzle, often in under a minute. I wonder if you remember how long it took you to do yesterday’s puzzle.
MacBlane: Oh, yesterday’s puzzle was a trickier one for me. I think it was like just under a minute, like 56 seconds. But I haven’t broken my minute streak in a while. So I haven’t done it yet today, but I’m gonna have to do it after this and like cross my fingers.
Ryan: So I know someone you’ve been speaking to recently who got it in 32 seconds yesterday, was just a world record for me, I have to say. So some of it is I think more slowly than all of my kids who do it routinely in under a minute. But also I do it on my phone and I’m constantly typing in the wrong letter. And then I can’t –
MacBlane: Yeah, you can’t do it on your phone.
Ryan: Oh, you do it on your computer?
MacBlane: Yeah, you got to do it on a computer. If you’re serious about the New York Times mini crosswords, you have to do it on your computer.
Ryan: OK. Last thing, I’ve been told that you are a twin. True or false?
MacBlane: It’s true.
Ryan: Identical or fraternal?
MacBlane: We’re fraternal, to my dismay, I always wanted to play pranks on people but –
Ryan: Who is older?
MacBlane: I’m older by two minutes and she, if she’s listening, she’ll be mad, but “the best two minutes of my life” is what I always say.
Ryan: I think that’s a good place to end. Listen, Ava, thanks so much for being on this podcast. I really appreciate your spending the time and thanks for all that you do for UVA, and pace yourself and do focus on dropping only the plastic balls. That’s a great metaphor.
MacBlane: Thank you.
Mary Garner McGehee, producer: “Inside UVA” is a production of WTJU 91.1. FM and the Office of the President at the University of Virginia. “Inside UVA” is produced by Kalea Obermeyer, Aaryan Balu, Mary Garner McGehee and Matt Weber. We also want to thank Maria Jones and McGregor McCance.
Our music is “Turning to You” from Blue Dot Sessions.
Listen and subscribe to “Inside UVA” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the University.
Ava MacBlane’s mother gave her some great advice about multitasking.
“I am always imagining that I’m juggling. And as a juggler … I’m going to drop a ball,” she told University of Virginia President Jim Ryan during the latest episode of his podcast, “Inside UVA.” “And my mom was like, ‘Some of the balls are plastic, and some of them are glass, and you just can’t drop the glass balls.’”
She’s carried that lesson with her as a third-year student and editor-in-chief of UVA’s student-run newspaper, the Cavalier Daily.
MacBlane is the newest guest on Ryan’s podcast, which gives listeners an idea of how a large public university like UVA runs.
Ryan asked her to describe her job.
“It’s a big job, you kind of like, wear a lot of hats,” she said.
Those hats include reading and editing all of the content in the Cavalier Daily. “You’re also kind of the president of the organization … the bigger-picture management,” she said. “And then another hat is, like, the CEO, because we are like an independent organization.” It’s like having a full-time job, she said, estimating that it requires 30 to 40 hours per week.
Ryan and MacBlane also discussed how she balances work and school and her love of the student-run theater organization, First-Year Players.