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Editor’s farewell: Journalism as a collective effort

When I first joined The Daily as a high school intern, I was just getting used to the idea that journalists had to call people on the phone.

A student who loved to write, I’d stumbled into journalism without a clue what it really was. I imagined people sitting around at their computers, typing furiously — but I hadn’t given much thought to where the words came from. (My school didn’t offer a journalism class, and apparently, I hadn’t watched enough reporting movies). Now, I learned that my success depended on talking a lot with strangers. I spent my summer with The Daily psyching myself up before pressing the “call” button, camped out in all the places where I thought my family was least likely to overhear me — standing outside in the backyard, perched on top of the washing machine in the basement.

These phone calls were my first lesson in journalism as a fundamentally collaborative project — one reliant on a whole lot more than the writer who finally sits down in front of a blank document.

The transformation I’ve undergone since those nervous calls isn’t uncommon, I think, for Daily staffers. Plenty of outgoing EICs have written about The Daily as a profound learning experience. While some of us come in with significant knowledge, others join unsure of what journalism even consists of. My most vivid takeaway: A reporter — and anyone who wants to contribute productively to their community — can’t do much alone. This is clearer to me than ever after spending the last half of this school year overseeing the sprawling process that puts out a paper each weekday and jolts into high gear at breaking news or the arrival of an intriguing tip. The work we put out has all sorts of fingerprints on it; it’s the product of both teamwork within the paper as well as bridges between us and the community we cover.

Looking back at the interviews I’ve done for The Daily, I marvel above all at the faith that was placed in me as part of an institution, a newspaper. Daily staffers are students, not experts. We make mistakes. We learn on the job. And yet, we’re afforded special access to people’s stories and special pretext to probe all parts of campus. Here, I think about the researcher who took a full hour out of his day to explain the science of chimeras to me. The source who worried that speaking to reporters could jeopardize their relationships and their work, and talked anyway. The woman who told me that, decades ago, a Stanford emeritus professor accused of sexual assault had terrified her by literally chasing her around a house. The people who told me things I’ve promised not to repeat.

None of The Daily’s work is possible without the people who open up to us, sharing their perspectives and bringing us into the sides of Stanford and its surroundings that we don’t know about or don’t readily have access to. This is particularly important given that The Daily has a ways to go before we represent the diversity of communities and experiences we seek to cover. When we struggle to tap into all corners of campus and understand all that goes on here, our coverage falls short. When we make a conscious effort to find and gain the input of the people we rarely hear from, it succeeds.

The Daily has also taught me that journalism, at its best, is a group project rather than a solitary one of the kind I imagined back in high school.

Like many freshman writers, I took a long time to warm to The Daily’s community. I showed up to beat meetings to claim my stories, wrote pieces in my room and shared Google Docs with my editors on time (at that point, with both The Daily and my schoolwork, I had yet to learn the magic of extensions). When cross-outs and rewritings popped up on my shared drafts, I felt like I’d done things wrong.

Those early memories of The Daily are eclipsed now by others, of all the times that working closely with other people made journalism more fun, more powerful. Here, I think of the group texts that pinged at all hours of the night with updates from four, five, six people helping to make a story happen (you know you’re a college student when you text everyone at 3 a.m. and hear back right away). I think of the two days before Thanksgiving break when we managed to push out two investigative articles only because we worked in a team. I think of gratefully overhauling pieces I wrote that my peers at the paper looked over — because everyone needs an editor.

I think of phone calls made not from the basement, hidden, but from The Daily’s conference room with other staffers huddled around, eager to hear what was said.

 

Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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