Empathy is not a weakness: a letter from the Editor-in-Chief

Katya Zakar | Photo Editor


“I’ve been waiting for someone to call me. No one has even tried.” 

These were the words Katheryn Montgomery, the victim of a horrific case of animal abuse, told me after our hour-long interview for my first major crime story. 

It became clear to me in that moment why I had persisted for weeks to find her: it bothered me how the initial news reports glossed over the visceral impact of this unimaginable crime and its aftermath. What about the victims? What message do we send if we only feature the criminal? Montgomery’s story was one worth telling, and a story I’d refuse to publish without the victim impact clearly defined. 

Working on this piece is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve worked on at my time in The Mercury. It is one of many thorough news stories I’ve worked on — from potential free speech violations to students’ political response to the atrocities in Gaza – that helped solidify my love for journalism and the importance of diving deep to highlight the people in my community in meaningful ways. Attending a university with over 30,000 students, the fear of stories going untold and a commitment to truth is what drives me toward journalism. I wonder how many people are waiting for someone to contact them like Montgomery was. 

I wasn’t always this passionate about working as a student journalist. I joined The Mercury as a bright-eyed freshman, excited by the idea of working at a newspaper after taking a journalism class in high school. Though I couldn’t pinpoint why at the time, I was drawn to the thought of learning about individuals in my community — of amplifying the voices often missed in larger media coverage.  

But there was a problem. I was too sensitive.  

I cared about everything a little too much. I was quiet, preferring to connect with individuals over networking endlessly with sources. I was easily bothered on behalf of others, and I believed my sensitivity to people and their experiences would be a hindrance in this line of work. So, I tried to suppress this part of myself, thinking it would help me cope with a dreary world a bit better and perform my job more efficiently.  

But I could not have been more incorrect. Empathy is not a weakness. It is, in fact, the reason I’m so committed to my work –- the reason I’m willing to go the extra mile to ensure my sources receive fair representation and my articles are to the highest quality possible. Being quieter helps me better listen to my community members and understand the value in their narratives, which in turn helps me amplify critical stories effectively. Having a soft heart — caring about other people openly, unabashedly and boldly, documenting the moments that matter to people — is the greatest strength one can have, not just as a reporter, but as a person trying to improve the world, and in my specific case improving the school paper itself.  

This year, I had the honor of serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Mercury, a position that has profoundly impacted me on a personal, social and professional level. I’m currently the longest standing member of The Mercury; I’ve worked in many positions over the past four years, and I’ve seen editors, staff members and advisers — with their distinct personalities, knowledge and wisdom — come and go through the revolving door. Rebuilding the solid journalistic knowledge base lost during COVID-19 and passing it onto future generations of reporters has been imperative for me this year. And this year has been my favorite by far — it has seen the most important and impactful major news coverage, and our core team is the most remarkable I’ve worked with during my time at The Mercury.  

I stayed at this work-intensive and underpaid position because of the people I met at the paper. We have had no shortage of colorful personalities at this newspaper, but what connects us all is our sincerity in creating a valuable publication for our student body. Our team believes in our mission — we work incredibly hard, and the sleepless nights covering breaking news is all worth it.  

Serving such a large campus is uniquely challenging but deeply rewarding. I hope each story I’ve worked on has been positive for my readers in some way — whether that means it was touching, informative or entertaining to read. My journey as a student journalist has been one of discovery, and I’d encourage anyone who values integrity, compassion and commitment to truth to try their hand at working at our student newspaper. 

Katya Zakar | Photo Editor


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