Washington Post editor recalls days at The Ramapo News

Photo courtesy of Sam Kim.

When the editor-in-chief of The Ramapo News was set to step down, Dorine Bethea, a staff writer, declared her interest in the position. Her editor wasn’t in her favor, so Bethea created a campaign for herself on campus, despite the role not being one students could vote for. Her efforts were successful, and Bethea became editor-in-chief for her final semester in 1986.

Today, Bethea works as an editor on the Washington Post multi-platform editing desk, but her first by-line was at Ramapo. Just as she worked tirelessly to make sure the paper met the print deadline here, she now works on the tight deadlines of the 24-hour news cycle. She says The Ramapo News is where she got her first experience of life as a journalist.

“What I learned is, whatever it takes to get the job done,” Bethea said in an interview. “I was in the throes of it here, and I didn’t know that this is how it works in the real world.”

Bethea visited Ramapo on Tuesday, April 12 to give a talk titled “My Life in Print: Reflections of a Ramapo College Journalist,” where she shared the story of her long and impressive career. In addition to her work at The Post, she works as a mentor at the Urban Journalism Workshop, a program which connects high school students with industry professionals. 

“It is so good to be a working journalist,” Bethea said. “It is absolutely wonderful for me to be able to do what I love doing at a major news organization, one with such a storied past and a promising future.”

She described her childhood “affinity for people” to the audience, which she sees as the curiosity that still drives her today. As the eighth of 13 children, Bethea remarked that her parents were hesitant at first when she decided she wanted to go to college. 

“My curiosity never wanes, I still want answers, to help me understand the ways of the world and of people,” Bethea said.

No one “in her circle” had graduated from college at that time, but she had the opportunity to attend on scholarship, and she made the most of it. In her time at Ramapo, Bethea was also a student of the Educational Opportunity Fund, a member of the Black Student Union, the Model UN and the women's basketball team. 

“I wanted to become a writer, and the town crier, and a journalist, even though I didn't speak those words, that was within me. There was so much to learn and to share that could help me and my family and our community,” Bethea said. “When I reflect on my experiences here at Ramapo College, every activity I've participated in, equipped me in some way to start my professional work life and develop a career.”

Part of Bethea’s talk centered around the struggles she has faced in her years as a journalist, from trying to get into her first job to being laid off in 2011. She said she’s worked nearly every shift a journalist can, from overnights to police coverage, to her present work week where she copy edits stories of all kinds.

“How I got here is a story of purpose and resilience,” Bethea said.

When answering questions, Bethea was asked for several bits of advice for students, from how to be taken seriously as a student journalist to how to persevere through tough times in the industry. She also spoke on what she perceives as big challenges for journalists today and how digital publications are overshadowing print.

For all the ways that she was a part of Ramapo’s community, Bethea inspired her audience during her return to campus. Her career, from staff writer at The Ramapo News to The Washington Post, is one for Ramapo to be proud of. Bethea herself lauds Ramapo and the foundation it provided for her success.

“I am a roadrunner. Figuratively and literally, in every sense of our mascot. I rise, and I still aim high. And you too must, and will, rise and fly high,” Bethea said. “Exercise your power, and your influence and help change the world. By no means, under any circumstances, ever give up.”