The Renaissance of Das Tor: My Experience as Editor-in-Chief

Lexa Montierth

Lexa Montierth

Outgoing Editor-in-Chief

As I applied to the list of second-year Thunderbird scholarships in the early spring of 2020, I noticed a gaping hole in one section that personally I felt I had failed to reach my goals on:  Campus Activities. I had participated fully with the newly formed Thunderbird Data and Analytics club, but the rigors of grad school, along with my other responsibilities, left me with more excuses than achievements. Excuses of why I could not fully participate in campus activities, instead of pushing myself to become more involved. One of the major reasons I had chosen Thunderbird’s full-time program instead of an online degree was for the full campus experience, and yet here I was, letting my time slip away.

The next month quarantine was implemented during our spring break, and the two-week break from campus slowly spread to the entire quarter. After notice that I did not receive any additional scholarships, it cemented the fact in my head that I had not fulfilled the promise to myself to be an active Thunderbird.  Whether or not my lack of campus activities was the reason I did not receive any additional scholarships was not the issue. Rather, it was the catalyst of my determination to become more involved in the school.

As the first Zoom quarter finished and I submitted final projects, feedback from Professor Patrick Lynch in my “Big Data in the Global Economy” class inspired me. He personally found the project I had worked on to be high caliber and asked why I was not focusing more on marketing and analytics as a career path. 

I reflected on this and realized I had held myself back in some ways, because I didn’t feel I had the proper “training” to be in marketing, having never been in business classes before Thunderbird. Looking at my desire to become more involved in campus activities and find a place to hone skills in marketing and analytics, I realized that Das Tor, the student newspaper, would be a good place to start.

I reached out to Das Tor’s previous editor Darcy Nelson, who also had been the Teaching Assistant for Professor Lynch. I asked if she knew who the next Editor-in-Chief would be so I could be of assistance.  After a long conversation, I found out that Das Tor was in serious need of help, without anyone being appointed to leadership roles for the next year. I told Darcy I did not know if I could do any more than she had tried to do in the past semester, but I was willing to try.

Perhaps it was fate that led me to step up to ask Darcy about helping with the website, or perhaps this is just my ego speaking. Although we have much more tech-savvy students at Thunderbird, the key to reviving DAS TOR was my past experiences, all of which helped the needed components fall into place.  For example, the first action I took as Editor-in-Chief was downloading a backup copy of the entire website. Growing up in a rural area with frequent power outages had taught me the importance of always keeping a backup before you changed anything. Secondly, I had used GoDaddy for my own domains and was familiar with their control panel, which Das Tor also uses. I also had designed custom and semi-custom WordPress websites for my real estate business for the past ten years, and while not an expert, I knew enough to be able to decipher and clean the website, which was being plagued by malicious cyberattacks.

Another important factor in my success was the fact that the previous semester I had spent time visiting and getting to know various members of Thunderbird’s staff on the 8th Floor and the IT department after numerous tech needs had arisen in the classroom.  When we all moved off campus due to the pandemic, working through issues on the website became even harder. However, my time meeting and forming personal connections with the IT staff was crucial in remediating this challenge.

While I dug through records of old emails, screen shots, and sticky notes from previous editors in my quest to fix the website, it seemed nearly impossible to determine who owned the domains, what servers the domains were running on, and how to enter the control panels to fix the security settings. The more I worked on it, the more walls I seemed to hit, and one day in July, the site had been completely erased from existence. My instinct to back up the website on my personal computer, driven by my rural childhood, was the only thing that saved hundreds of stories from being lost.  

As I dug further into the issues surrounding the website, several problems became clear. When Das Tor moved over to its online format in 2011, there had been paid student and staff members to help run the website. However, sometime between the merger and acquisition with ASU, the logins for the domain name and social media sites had become lost, and there was not any staff that maintained the sites. I scourged through LinkedIn trying to find any previous editors to find out what had become of the website and if they had recalled any information about the website.  Thanks to the help of previous editor Rick Beitman, I realized that his staff members had done some of the last updates to the website in 2015.  Between 2015 and 2020, the maintenance of security settings and servers had not been completed regularly, if at all. Though some industries move at a snail’s pace, cybersecurity and digital technologies change at an exponential rate, and therefore the website needed almost constant updating. 

Eventually, I made headway with help from our beloved Thunderbird IT department and their access to the domain service panel. I was then able to reupload the previous site I had saved, and though we did lose some archives, we saved all the stories published from 2011-2018.

Once I was secure in the knowledge the website was safe, I set about creating a new vision for the paper in my leadership role as the new Editor-in-Chief. In 1969, when Thunderbird student Bob Morabito founded Das Tor as “an open forum for debate,” he wrote this mission statement:

“Wherever we travel, whenever we pass from one country to another we must go through a gate. However, Das Tor means more than simply the traversing of borders; it stands as a symbol and artery of communication through the barriers of superstition, ignorance, dogma, racism, and prejudice; traditional enemies which continue to be a detriment to progress and global peace. Idealistic though it may sound, it has now become the responsibility of our generation, the future leaders of the international community, to make every effort to widen these gates and succeed where previous generations have failed. Das Tor must, therefore, be an open forum for debate, a clearinghouse of ideas that may further prepare us for the international community and further augment the reputation of this youthful institution.”

Besides the previously mentioned technology issues, Das Tor also had lost its way as a published source. Though Das Tor had always been student-run, at times some stories did not represent the best of Thunderbird. When asking others about Das Tor, I was told that in the past few years, it had developed a reputation of gossip and slander instead of a place of honest opinion and debate. To help create a new vision and direction for Das Tor as a voice of Thunderbirds everywhere, I worked with Sneha Pujani to help define and focus the new DAS TOR. I had found the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and wanted to incorporate that into our practice and stories. We created a vision statement that we hope future Das Tor members will live by as they create stories for others to read:

It is our mission to provide essential Thunderbird news, present thought-provoking debate on current events, and promote diverse viewpoints that explore global business practices, non-profit organizations, and international adventures. Das Tor provides a space for current and past Thunderbirds to express their culture, beliefs, and opinions while staying true to the ethical standards of journalism and upholding the Thunderbird Oath of Honor.

Though the story has many more twists and turns, most of the rebirth of Das Tor comes from the team that joined in after Club Day Fall of 2020. From that first day, I could see my future leaders in the club: Sophie Dessart, Makenna Flynn, Lois Lawson, and Andrea Awuah. I also met others who are now leaders of other clubs that frequently collaborate with Das Tor, including Diana Salas Diaz, Maria Jose Missiego Matto, and many, many others. Makenna worked so hard the entire fall semester preparing for our first publication and learning how to design the website, often without any additional help.  Sophie, Lois, and Andrea worked together on writing and curating engaging articles.  Diana Salaz Dias, June Obata, and Terri Baker worked on the podcast, which seems so easy, yet needed the strong backbone of Das Tor to develop first before it could take off. In the spring semester, we added Antonio Brunel, Christina Furst, Rebecca Swyers, Dushiime Kaguliro, and Courtney Read to our leadership team, which rounded out the skills needed for Das Tor to run like a well-oiled machine. Sophie was promoted to Assistant Editor, and now I am so proud that she has become the next Editor-in-Chief.  

I cannot believe how lucky I have been to have such an amazing group of classmates working with me this past year to bring the website back to life and grow it from the tiny seed to the sapling it is today. Das Tor has transformed from my small bit of introspection in May of last year to our now growing website and social media following.  I cannot wait to see the mighty tree that grows from where we are today.  Das Tor has been making changes in student lives and will continue to do so as more graduate, undergraduate, online students, and alumni writers lend their voices to Das Tor.

In our recent archive search, we found the following a post from 1979 that recalled the first time Thunderbird’s campus newspaper was published on November 14, 1946. Known at the time as “The Thunderbird,” the first editorial ever published in Thunderbird’s student newspaper included the following plea:

“This is not an editorial.  It is an appeal for help.  At the last minute it is being substituted for an editorial which envisioned the continued publication of a first-rate newssheet.  At the present moment it appears that this will be the first and last issue of the Thunderbird.

 This issue falls far short of the quality publication the size and type of the institution and the caliber of its students warrant.  Whatever its deficiencies, thanks to those very few who had the courage to see it through its publication and distribution in spite of having every excuse to forget the whole idea.

 If the Thunderbird is to continue beyond this issue, at least twelve more students, willing to contribute about five hours a week, must volunteer to assist in its publication. Another appeal for reporters, typists, and business staff members will be made. The desired response will assure the future of the Thunderbird and allow it to assume the important place it deserves in our community.”

My time with Das Tor has come to its end as I prepare to graduate next week.  My time working with my fellow and past Dastorians will never be forgotten. It is my hope that Das Tor, the Thunderbird Student-Run News and Media Forum, will live on. It is only through our willingness to serve and support Das Tor that other students will have a place to call their own, to develop their voice and story-telling craft, and to share and debate topics. Ultimately, these actions will ensure Das Tor is truly “The Gate” that helps us make our way into the world.  

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