An Interview with the Editor: Reflecting on The Avion’s Shutdown

Trey Henderson/The Avion Newspaper
Trey Henderson / Editor-in-Chief

As many of you may have heard, The Avion was temporarily suspended from operation earlier this semester.

Though the cease operations lasted a mere 23 hours, the impact on the campus, the SGA, and The Avion staff was noted.

In the wake of the shutdown, it gave us a great incentive and opportunity to review the policies and procedures we have in place to ensure that we continue providing you with the best news on campus, in the industry, and around the world in the best manner possible.

Resuming operations, we are instituting new and more strict policies to ensure more effective and better documented internal operations and training.

Michael Nisip / Managing Editor

After the events of the shutdown, I had the opportunity sit down and talk with Trey to learn more about him and The Avion.

How did you get involved with SGA?

I got involved in the SGA my very first semester at Embry-Riddle through what was then TFO, or Task Force One, and what has now been restructured into FYI, First Year Initiative. When I got started, all I knew was that I wanted to be involved with SGA and the University’s newspaper, but I had no idea they were connected. For two years, I was the Editor-In-Chief (EIC) for my high school’s yearbook, where I learned my love of print publication. After my first semester here at Embry-Riddle I proved my worth with Peter Tan, the EIC at the time, and he appointed me as Photo Editor. In just one semester, my goal of involvement with the SGA and the newspaper was achieved with my appointment as an executive board member of The Avion and an SGA official.

What is the mission of The Avion?

The mission of The Avion is to provide a voice to the student body. It allows the students a way to speak openly and freely about student life on campus, events happening in the aerospace industry and news happening here in the Daytona Beach area and around the world. The Avion gives its members an outlet for their creative juices, if you will. Photography, writing, graphic design, all that is the sort of stuff that you don’t typically see at Embry-Riddle.  We’re very much a technical based school, so a lot of math and science, the physical and structured skills, but not necessarily anything that is open ended or free, like design and photography as a form of art. It gives students the ability to do that. You don’t get that at many other places on campus.

What does the EIC position entail? What responsibilities do you have?

The Editor-in-Chief’s responsibility is to make sure The Avion operates smoothly, that it produces a paper and all of the Executive Board members are working together to do their respective jobs. I work closely with the SGA President and the rest of the SGA Executive Board to better the SGA and The Avion. I oversee all of the administrative things in The Avion.  I oversee communications with University officials, with departments and other organizations. I’m essentially the figurehead of the organization – if there’s any contact that needs to be made with The Avion on an administrative level then I’m your guy.

The Avion was shut down earlier this term. Can you tell us what happened?

There are certain details that I can and cannot divulge. It involves primarily one incident, one not related to anything that we’ve printed. As a newspaper, we’ve had errors in the past with things such as grammar and bylines. But those issues are expected for a newspaper like ours – one on such a tight schedule and driven primarily by a volunteer effort. However, there was an internal event that occurred and that made us realize the need to review our policies. I heard the news of the cease operations order directly from the Student Activities’ office, who is under the umbrella of the Dean of Students. The cease operations directive was delivered to me by the Director of Student Activities after consultation with the Dean of Students office. Despite the shutdown, we were fortunate enough to be reinstated after 23 hours, practically to the minute.

After hearing the news from the Director of Student Activities that The Avion was shut down, what were your initial thoughts and reactions?

When I first came to the meeting, I was already going to consult our advisor about something and I walked into the office being playful as usual with our advisor. After walking in I was then informed that the Director of Student Activities would be joining us. I then thought to myself, “Okay, that’s interesting, maybe something big is happening.”  Well, something big was certainly happening, I just wasn’t expecting something on this scale. The Director started explaining what was happening.  The first words out of her mouth were, “The Avion has to cease all operations immediately.”  As the leader of this organization for over a year now, as this is my second term as EIC, it was overwhelming. I had no clue what was happening, I had no clue where the future of the organization laid and I had no clue what was going to happen to me, to our executive board, to all of our staff members, everything we had planned for just the next weeks for Issues 6 and 7. At first I was just dumbstruck as I was trying to comprehend it all, and after it really hit that it was really official, I broke down in tears.  It felt very much like a personal thing; I’ve been working in this organization for a long time, almost two and a half years since I got started in The Avion and I felt really connected to it. The Avion is like my baby and now it was taken out of my hands indefinitely.

When The Avion was directed to cease ops, were you informed as to why, or were you left wondering?

At the time of the meeting, there were still a lot of questions that didn’t have answers, on both the Student Activities’ side and our side.  There were questions I was asking that neither our advisor nor the Director of Student Activities had answers to.  (As everyone knows, Wings & Waves was just around the corner at the time) and we had been working tirelessly with the University for the past two years getting things lined up – what happens to that relationship and the incredible effort by so many?  What happens to all of our advertisements that we have contracts for?  What happens to our national advertising contracts – things that go through a third party company?  We’re under contract with those people, so what happens there?  Those were some questions that neither I nor the Director of Student Activities knew the answers to.

After you were first delivered the cease ops order, you had to disseminate that information to those affected by the order.  Can you recall the initial thoughts and reactions of other members within The Avion?

I can certainly recall them – after the meeting with our advisor and Director of Student Activities, I wanted to have an emergency executive meeting right then and there, but it was a lot of information for me even to process.  I had to take a break and go somewhere and do something to get my mind off  this to process how I would tell the other members.  I have members in the organization who have been there longer than I have, and they’re just as attached as I am.  I have members who have been there for just five or six weeks now, and they’re already deeply dedicated and devoted to the organization.  I knew it would impact them just as strongly as it did me. I got out of that meeting at 5:30 p.m. and I called the emergency executive board meeting for 7:00 p.m.  It was hard for me to say it, but I explained it to them and you could just see the shock and disbelief in their faces.  I believe their reaction was very similar to my reaction because of the processing time required for an order of this caliber.  You don’t really think something like this can happen, but it just did.  At first there were no words from anyone, just deafening silence. After it started clicking for people that this was actually happening, they started to take it much like I did, although there were some different reactions.  Some were very calm and collected and saw the next steps that we needed to take, and there were others that thought things could have been handled better.  There was a wide gamut of reactions because I have a diverse board of people.

After your staff was informed, I’m sure the information flowed out to Eagle Nation – to students, alumni, faculty, and staff – people beyond the borders of SC110.  Are you familiar with those reactions?

The Avion has a very close knit community of alumni and previous executive board members, EICs, and staff.  It was prematurely made public the next day on the SGA’s Facebook page that The Avion had been shut down for an indefinite amount of time.  At the time, we didn’t know how long we were going to be shut down.  It could’ve been shut down for the 23 hours that it was, or it could’ve been shut down for the remainder of the semester. After the post was made public, there were swarms of commentsand multiple people shared news. People were concerned about what was happening, wondering why we were shut down, angry that we were shut down and people cracking jokes.  It’s actually funny, I came to my door the day  it went public and there was a sign on the door that said “Office Space for Rent by Student Activities” and it had their phone number.  For having one of the worst days of my time here, that was actually really funny.  In the most part, the public reaction was really more of “What? What happened?”  There was some concern and anger from the public, but they were predominately curious as to why this had happened.

How did other divisions within SGA, such as Touch-N-Go, WIKD, and even the SGA office react to this order?

The entirety of the SGA was extremely supportive. Our neighbors in WIKD were there to do anything they could, offering their emotional and organizational support in any way. I would also walk through the hallways and get countless hugs from SGA members understanding what the organization is going through.

When you saw that outpouring of support, were you comforted or reassured or justified in your reaction of disbelief at all?

Yeah, I’d say so. I come in to the office every day and I love what I do.  But, there are the occasional times where I wonder if people even care what we do.  I’ve had this thought before, “If we stop the paper today, what would people’s thoughts be tomorrow?”  And I guess we found out what people’s thoughts would be. We really are an integral part of the University and campus culture, and people do care;  it makes me take even more pride in the job that I do and the work of my entire executive board.

Coming back from this shutdown and consequently reviewing your policies and procedures, it seems that The Avion will come back with a more unified directive and exist as a stronger organization. Do you agree?

Yes, every setback is an opportunity to step back and revaluate how we can improve as an organization.  This was a great opportunity for us and it really solidifies the fact that something was wrong.  There are a lot of policies and things that are either outdated or not explicitly stated as clearly as they should be.  The proces that took place after the shutdown was a great opportunity for us to step back and review those issues.  Part of the requirements set before us by Student Activities include that we would need to work with the student court and determine what policies we have, what policies we don’t have, and what policies need to be improved. For the remainder of the semester, we worked alongside the student court to ascertain what needed to be stronger.  Reviews such as this is what they do – they review bylaws, constitutions, policies, procedures, and guidelines – to make sure that an organization is operating at its fullest potential.

Do you think the shutdown was unavoidable? Was there an alternate path that didn’t include the shutdown of The Avion?

I think the shutdown was unavoidable because we did need that stronger set of policies. It was just a matter of time until something like this happened – we didn’t have all of our “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed. And like I said, this was a great opportunity for us to review what needed to be in place, and to set those things in place.

Serving as EIC for your second year now, what would you say is your greatest achievement?

Though it’s still in its infancy, I would say my greatest achievement is digitizing The Avion.  In 2014, news content is not limited to paper.  We still print 1,000 copies every week and inform 1,000 people every week using the traditional printing press method.  But today, the majority of people want to go on the iPhone or Android device and browse the internet and scroll through their news list.  They want to lounge on the couch and read news articles from their iPad, tablet, or laptop. Digitizing The Avion allows so much flexibility with delivering news.  Clearly, it’s difficult to print videos, as they don’t print so well onto paper.  Going digital opens another dimension for us where we can employ interactive content such as video, audio and maps to inform the public.  We’ve got a lot of ideas in the works for possible future opportunities and we’re diligently working towards making those feasible ideas a reality.  Recently we started putting videos on our website, which is something we’ve never been able to do, we have extensive photo galleries on our website which gives us unlimited flexibility, whereas the size of the paper used to limit us to just a few images.  The website offers us the ability to be very dynamic and swift with reporting news. Seeing the digital aspect of The Avion currently is and most likely will be the biggest achievement of my EIC term.

You’ve gone through a lot in this semester and you seem to hold The Avion very near and dear to your heart, but what does The Avion really mean to you?

For me, “near and dear” is definitely an understatement – it’s just about everything to me.  Ever since I’ve known Embry-Riddle, I’ve known The Avion and it’s what I love doing more than anything.  Going from general member to Photo Editor to EIC – I love where I am and what I do and everything about the organization.  The Avion is what I look forward to when I get out of class.  I walk out after class and head to the office because I want to work on The Avion, where I usually end up doing paper work, but on occasion I’m taking pictures or writing or doing something to contribute to the paper.

What’s a fun fact about you that you would like to share with anyone reading this?

Believe it or not, I’m colorblind, more specifically I have mild deuteranomalia. I’m a professional photographer, graphic designer, and the Editor-in-Chief of a newspaper and I’m colorblind. Yes, I can distinguish colors. If you point at something that is red, I can tell you that it’s red, but if you pick two really close shades of red or green I actually can’t tell them apart. I’ll never forget this time in high school that I was using a green screen to Photoshop backgrounds into photos, and my advisor pointed out that I had missed an entire chunk of the picture because I was colorizing the green background a  shade of pink.