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Courtesy of Special Collections

The ugly couch and the General Manager by Jamie Smith Hopkins

Jamie Smith Hopkins is part of the class of ’98.

The first time I visited the Retriever’s office, resume clasped in one hand, I thought the newspaper might have too many writers to want a freshman like me.

Now, of course, I look back at that and laugh. The very next year, I was an editor begging for writers. (Freshmen? Yes please! No writing experience? No problem!) But when I walked in the door, I had only the barest notion of the seat-of-the-pants way a student newspaper works, let alone what a “nut graf” was, how to write fast enough to quote people accurately without asking them to repeat themselves over and over or the best way to juggle four story assignments and five classes.

I can’t recall if Ed Hopkins, the general manager, also laughed when I asked if I had any chance of joining the Retriever. He’d been there four years, so he knew. But I do remember the tour he gave me: The impressive Macs in the layout room, the out-of-date PCs for the writers, the rust-colored, vinyl couch that looked about as old as the university.

Nothing happened that afternoon, in the strictest sense of the word. The staff writing job and first assignment came later. But it was probably the most important day of my life because it set in motion most of what has happened to me since.

The internships and reporting jobs I couldn’t have landed if not for Retriever advisor Christopher Corbett and the writing experience the paper gave me. The man I eventually married and wouldn’t have met otherwise — Ed, who was about to graduate. The seven-year-old daughter who would not exist if I hadn’t come in for that tour.

I got to cover some interesting stories at UMBC in the 1990s, from overturned student government election results to a campus housing shortage. But whenever I think of the Retriever, I picture those computers, that breathtakingly ugly couch and the general manager who helped me see myself there, too.