When Juraj Kittler, current adviser for The Hill News, has the whole staff over for dinner, he always makes more pizzas than there are people, and we spend the night polishing off pie after pie as soon as he can slice and serve them up. It’s common knowledge that free pizza is the only guaranteed way into the hearts of college students, but for Juraj and THN, gathering around our adviser’s dining room table with people who share an appreciation for journalism, it’s the meeting of minds, exchange of ideas, and occasional political debate that makes our pizza dinners so worthwhile. That, and the soft crunch of arugula on ribbons of potato, lightly crisped with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of rosemary, all piled on thin crust.
Juraj’s potato pizza is one of many underappreciated gems of the North Country I’ve had the privilege to experience during my time at St. Lawrence and is, arguably, the catalyst for one of my most valued relationships at SLU.
Juraj himself is a trained journalist and, by nature of his craft, a world traveler. He was born and raised in the former Czechoslovakia. Now, he’s an associate professor in both the performance and communication arts and English departments. He’s taught summer courses in Venice and will teach the London First-Year Program in the fall of 2017. But, as current editor-in-chief, the role in which I know him best is The Hill News’ adviser, a position he's held for the past eight years. He offers a faculty perspective and suggests story ideas based on what he’s heard around campus and the greater Canton community. He’s our ethics guru when we’re in a bind and a general mentor for aspiring journalists.
I first gathered with his wife and several other editors around his dinner table in the spring of my sophomore year. We talked about school and our majors, our favorite podcasts, books we were meaning to read, and then broadly about upcoming elections or the future of print journalism. Every so often since, I’ve paid trips to his office to talk about how to improve various aspects of THN or skim through his portfolio and discuss campus news while sipping coffee. Even the most direct conversation with Juraj wanders to a fascinating tangent, and I often leave our discussions with four new story ideas, seven leads, a campus multimedia project initiative, and three previously unconsidered career prospects. His enthusiasm is tireless, his feedback grounded in a genuine passion to see THN succeed.
Now, as editor-in-chief and first in line to graciously receive Juraj’s critiques, about 50 percent of our conversations go as follows:
‘This week was a very strong issue, but there’s too much text on page 7. People see a block of text and they don’t want to read. We need more, original photos,” he says in a soft, Eastern European accent.
“I understand, but we need the content. It was a good story! We’ll work on formatting,” I do my best to defend editorial choices while conceding, at least a little, to Juraj’s practiced wisdom.
“Juraj, I just got an email from a professor who says the figures in last week’s front page article are wrong. I think she’s really angry,” I say, fighting back the guilt of a widely circulated error and the consequent urge to panic.
“Ask her if we can publish it as a Letter to the Editor. This is an opportunity to start a conversation,” is Juraj’s response. According to him, tension or dissent is always an opportunity for dialogue. He encourages me to keep a level head and stand by my editorial decisions.
Or his favorite:
“Who is doing the photos on page 11? They have been so stretched – the people look like coneheads!” in that exact diction.
“But we’ve improved so much in the last year! I’ll let the editors know we’re slipping away from your standards,” I say, hinting at sarcasm.
Or more recently, usually right before or after an editorial meeting:
“Olivia, you are not sick of me yet?”
“Don’t speak too soon, Juraj. There’s still a semester left,” though the semester has dwindled to just a few weeks, and now we talk less about the paper and more about that ambiguous space beyond senior year of college.
“You are hardworking. Someday, someone will notice,” he assures me when I stress over the fact that the next year or so of my life is a tenuous web of undefined possibility with little structure to grasp. He tells me to be comfortable with uncertainty, that it’s okay to not know, that I have the capacity to work hard and take risks as long as I’m willing. It will work out. His perspective is always level, holistic, and grounding.
And always, after every conversation, “we’ll talk more about this later” or “drop by the meeting tomorrow, I’ll have more information about it then.” The ongoing dialogue loops around class periods and beyond the newsroom. It breathes in the foam of cappuccinos I’ve enjoyed in his kitchen and warms with the steam from hot bowls of goulash, another J. Kittler dinner specialty. It swirls with the scent of basil, red sauce, and rosemary on pizza nights - a reliable soundboard, a source of advice, a support system.