Craig Bystrynski `83: journalists and documentary maker

Craig Bystrynski `83 has always liked hiring liberal arts graduates.

“They have a really broad understanding and perspective, more than someone coming out of journalism school,” he said. “They might need to learn specific skills in the beginning, but in the end the result is really good.”

Bystrynski, former Editor-in-Chief of the Echo, has spent his career fitting his own description of liberal arts success. 

Bystrynski started working at the Echo the second semester of his first year; by his junior year, he was Editor-in-Chief. At that time in both Colby and Waterville’s history, it was not unusual for Echo writers to begin their careers at the Morning Sentinel. “It’s a shell of its former self,” Bystrynski said, “but at the time it was a very good local newspaper with a vibrant newsroom.”

Bystrynski interned at the Sentinel during his senior JanPlan and was subsequently hired. 

The Sentinel was its own entity at the time; it had an office, a printing press in the building, and a circulation of over 30,000. The year before Bystrynski was hired, the newspaper was named one of the best local newspapers in the country. “It was a good place to work,” he says. But, “it didn’t pay much.”

It was a turbulent time to be a student-journalist in Waterville, Maine. Bystrynski was working for the Sentinel when the College started to ban fraternities. When the first two fraternities, KDR and DKE, were put on trial (KDR, considered the worst offender, was banned), the issue made front page news at the Sentinel. 

In the 80’s, Greek Life had not yet received the nationwide backlash that many colleges and universities have experienced more recently. The story spread and was picked up by other publications, a very exciting turn of events for a young journalist.

“It was a different campus then,” Bystrynski said, reflecting on his coverage of the issue. “The student union was in Roberts, and you had to pass all of the fraternities to get there. They had a strong hold on campus life.”

Bystrynski learned a lot of skills while at the Echo that were useful throughout his career. Furthermore, he believes that as an English major, his most useful courses were fiction and creative writing. In these classes, he learned to be careful with his words and sentences and how to take and receive criticism. 

“In journalism school, kids come out with a great understanding of the inverted pyramid, the five Ws [who, what, when, where, why], all kinds of stuff,” Bystrynski said. “But that isn’t everything.” 

The Echo itself, he acknowledges, was a very different experience, very quickly after his graduation, the production of the Echo moved to computers. During his time at the Echo office in Bobs, however, things were not so easy. The Echo had an old photo-type setting equipment.

At this time, the Sentinel had just been computerized. 

After getting his start at the Sentinel, Bystrynski worked in Washington, D.C. as editor of a weekly newspaper that covered associations. He later married and moved to San Francisco. 

He worked for a company covering beverage industry news (“exciting, I know,” he said), then became an editor of a weekly tabloid called City Sports. He then co-founded a magazine publishing company that produced a series of niche magazines. 

After a number of years, he closed the business, sold the magazines, and moved back east to the Boston area with his wife. He started working as Editor-in-Chief for a late start-up doing education magazines.

“Most of my roles have been as Editor-in-Chief,” Bystrynski said. “There’s a combination of planning and strategy, making sure the issues get out, making sure to have the right content, working with writers, planning out issues–a year or so in advance. It’s very fun.”

While he was working at the company, the communications business moved away from print. “It was 90’s internet, so it was really rudimentary,” Bystrynski said. “It was only later, at the start of social media, where that changed dramatically.”

Regardless of print or digital age, Bystrynski has advice for all writers and contributors: understand who the audience is; do research; know exactly what story they had, and how it was going to fit what they were looking for, and, in the modern age, know what the platform is. 

“Contributors have much more direct contact with readers than they used to,” he said. 

As a Colby student, he did not imagine what his career would become.

“When I went to Colby, I really wanted to be a fiction writer,” he said. “I never really pursued that. There were a bunch of people who did similar things: went and worked for newspapers, and once that happens, it’s really hard to get up the creative energy to work on your own things. But you do a tremendous amount of writing as an editor.”

In recent years, Bystrynski has found an interesting consulting project with widenthecircle.org, an organization working to prevent hate and prejudice, particularly regarding those battling antisemitism in Germany. “It is unbelievable what great work they do there,” he said.

His most recent project was a short film that takes place at an elementary school in Berlin in a historically Jewish neighborhood. There was once a synagogue at the site of the school, but it is no longer standing. 

In the 1990s, the principal was reading through a principal’s log that dated back to the 1890s. On November 9 and 10, 1938, the log detailed the events of Kristallnacht, an organized night of vandalizing synagogues and Jewish homes, schools, and businesses. The principal in 1938 wrote that all of the school’s problems were caused by Jews. By the end of the week, all Jewish students were expelled. Many ended up in death camps. 

The principal in the `90s published a list of 5,000 Jews who had lived in the neighborhood and had been killed in the Holocaust.

She then had each sixth grade student  pick a name from the list. Each student was instructed to write the name of the chosen person and where they were born or killed on a yellow brick. They gave presentations, and then used the bricks to construct a wall. After the  first year, the wall had 25 bricks. Today, there are almost 1,700.

Bystrynski worked as a content advisor for the film. For this position, he collaborated with the executive director of Widen the Circle, hired a filmmaker in Germany, met with the team, and decided how to put the footage together into a cohesive story. 

“The organization had this thing they’ve been doing in Germany,” Bystrynski said. “It’s very exciting, and they are trying to expand into the U.S., and I’m helping to create content for that.”

Bystrynski’s takeaway from his experiences traces all the way back to his time at Colby College.” A lot of that stuff is telling stories,” he said. “It’s just knowing how to tell a good story.”