In November of 2012, a first-year student knocked on the door of The Brunswickan’s office.
“I remember going up to The Bruns office, and I was terrified! I was just a little first year!” the student says now, almost six years later. “But all the editors who were in the room that day were so welcoming, and they just seemed really keen on helping me write.”
The young, timid student agreed to take on a news story about an “angel tree” being organized by the Sociology Society (the first assignment, it would turn out, of many). And, immediately upon completion of the piece, a realization struck—one that would alter not only the course of the student’s time at UNB, but where they would ultimately head after.
“As soon as I filed that story, I knew: This is what I want to do with my life.”
That student’s name? Emma McPhee, our editor-in-chief.
“Hi, I’m Emma from The Brunswickan!”
It’s possible that McPhee’s path to her present position was preordained. Back in grade 12, she took a journalism class in lieu of AP Bio, and though it turned out to be a bit of a bird course, there were seeds planted of the person she would ultimately become. There was, for instance, the fact that when the teacher screened the classic 1976 film All The President’s Men, about the reporters who investigated the infamous Watergate scandal, she was the only one of her classmates not bored to tears (“I thought it was the best movie ever!” she exclaims). And, when six of the keenest students were exempted from the final project in exchange for the opportunity to cover a local heritage fair—“A real journalistic assignment!” she jokes—her group mates nominated her to be their cohort’s editor-in-chief.
Nonetheless, the fledgling reporter-to-be did not have a stint with student journalism on her radar when she began her UNB career.
“I have anxiety, and the summer before I came to UNB, it was at an all-time high. I couldn’t pick up a phone to speak to anyone. There was like an invisible line at the end of the driveway outside my parent’s house that I couldn’t cross. I was too scared to leave. I didn’t like speaking to people.”
But after encouragement from her academic advisor, McPhee decided to give The Bruns a chance, and soon found it was the perfect thing to help her overcome her anxiety.
“By just being able to say ‘Hi, I’m Emma from The Brunswickan’ instead of ‘Hi, I’m Emma McPhee—all the shyness, all the anxiety just melted away,” she says. “I didn’t have any anxiety at all, and I thought, ‘This is great. I’ve never felt this way before.’”
For McPhee, The Brunswickan provided an outlet where all her timidness vanished, and she could be a lot more confident. “I’ve always said that student journalism made me an a lot more bolder version of myself,” she recounts. “And that was the start of that.”
And what a start it was: for her first year as a volunteer, McPhee wrote roughly one story a week, which led to her earning a role the following year as news reporter. This, naturally, led her to become the subsequent year’s news editor, until, in her final year of her undergraduate, the Archaeology and Classics major at last reached the publication’s peak position: editor-in-chief.
“I thought it’d be a fitting way to end my undergrad, and I was so excited,” she says. “When I found out I got it, I ended up being late to my Greek class, but I couldn’t help it—I just walked in and said, ‘Sorry I’m late, but I just got editor-in-chief!’ I was just so excited.”
Thrilled as she was, though, the four years’ worth of devotion to the newspaper, combined with some tough issues in her personal life, had started to leave McPhee feeling somewhat burnt out. “I kind of lost my passion for journalism,” she says. “I had just kind of lost my spark.”
As much joy as student journalism had brought her, she decided it was time to leave journalism behind. The next fall, she’d come back to UNB to start a new degree—a master’s in Classics—but this time, she’d be devoted solely to her studies.
“I’m just not going to do journalism for two years,” she told herself. “I’m not going to have any trouble whatsoever with that.”
Or so she thought.
“There’s something you should be doing…and you’re not doing it.”
“I know this is gonna sound super lame,” McPhee warns with a grin. “It sounds super melodramatic, but it happened. I’m serious. That summer [before the start of my master’s] I ended up getting an opportunity to go to Greece for six weeks. And I was by myself, at the Athenian Acropolis, walking around, and I suddenly thought, ‘Man—I’m not going to be a journalist for two years.’”
There’s a certain way McPhee speaks when she’s discussing journalism: bent forward slightly, hands constantly moving to emphasise her points. She’s been speaking this way the whole interview, but now, at this point in the story, her voice goes much softer, and she stills.
“And, [I’m thinking], even though it’s incredible to be here, in Athens, on the Acropolis…I still think I want to be a journalist more than anything to do with this,” she says slowly, like she’s uttering a confession. “It just kind of hit me. And I thought to myself: If I’m on the Acropolis thinking, ‘I’d rather be a journalist’…then maybe there’s something to that. I was starting to realize maybe I hadn’t realized just how passionate I was about journalism.”
Within the first few months back at UNB, she knew she had to return to her true passion—there was no way she could get through her degree and not do The Bruns.
“If I would meet new people, I’d always introduce myself as a journalist. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I think there was just something subconsciously telling me: There’s something you should be doing, and you’re not doing it.”
She soon switched her thesis topic to focus on how journalistic theory applies to ancient Greek historiography, and spent her spare time constantly coming up with ideas for The Brunswickan, filling pages and pages of notebooks with plans about how she could do better than she had last time, how she could improve the magazine, how she could help The Bruns. When she submitted her application for editor-in-chief, round two, she noted at the top of her cover letter that it had been 318 days since she’d last been with The Bruns.
She knew precisely how much time had passed, to the day.
“Where I find myself”
And so, for the past year, McPhee has been back where she belongs: working for The Brunswickan. Most days, she can be found in her editor-in-chief office, at a worn desk on which books on journalism are scattered, surrounded by shelves containing stacks and stacks of previous issues—the ghosts of EICs past. In this stint as editor-in-chief, she’s had unexpected challenges, both paper-related—“Certainly nothing prepares you for covering Nazis on campus,” she says slyly—and personal, but through it all, The Bruns has given her as much as she has given it.
“The Bruns has always been the best distraction for me. Honestly, it’s like the best therapy ever. I can turn to the work. That’s where I am. That’s where I find myself. It gives me a sense of purpose. I have a role in accurately sending out information to the public. I have to do it very quickly, and I love the challenge of that. It can be very stressful, but at the end of the day…it keeps me grounded.”
This year, however, truly is McPhee’s last hurrah: in September, she’s leaving UNB—and The Brunswickan—to head to the nation’s capital, where she’ll pursue a Master of Journalism degree at Carleton University. It’s a strange time for journalism: the entire industry is rearranging itself, and has yet to figure out exactly how it fits into the digital landscape. For McPhee, this just means another exciting opportunity to follow her passion and see where it leads her.
“I want to help shape the next stage of journalism in Canada. Obviously, there are a lot of people already doing that, but I want to be some part of it.”
Of course, the shifting tides of the journalism industry at large mean that student journalism is undergoing changes of its own, too. But as long as other Emma McPhees come along to pick up where she’s leaving off, the paper will continue running just as smoothly as it has during her time with it.
“I don’t foresee The Brunswickan dying as long as there are people passionate in it. And I hope that there will be many more people as passionate about The Bruns as I am. Because The Bruns is like…my life. And I hope that there will be people to pick that up, so that it stays strong.”