Five out of my seven Facebook cover photos over the last four years have been Stanford Daily recruitment pitches. They feature the usual cut-and-paste blurbs of hype, dangling the prospect of “interviewing prominent campus visitors,” getting “front-row press passes to sporting events” and, of course, eating free Treehouse pizza every night at production.
To be honest, none of these selling points has much to do with my Daily experience. To my parents’ dismay, my position has not once translated into an interview with the Ruth Bader Ginsburgs and Oprah Winfreys who sometimes give The Daily Q&As. I’ve attended about half of a Cardinal sports game. By my second year at The Daily, few foods were less appealing to me than Treehouse pizza (RIP the weekly thin-crust Patxi’s order).
For my goodbye column, I want to sort through what I’ve really gotten out of my time here — and for any students reading, why I hope you find a place here too.
As an aspiring journalist, I could talk about the many ways The Daily has helped prepare me to go out in the world as a reporter. This student-run paper has given me wonderful opportunities and hands-on training, allowing me to test new skills, make professional connections, get feedback, rewrite, get angry emails, get better. But only a fraction of The Daily’s staff want to become full-time journalists. This makes sense. As excited as I am about journalism, I’m also daunted by the glimpses I’ve gotten of the news industry — here, I think of the outstanding reporters I’ve worked with who got laid off, the local paper I interned at with a whole room known as “the graveyard” because it’s full of vacant office chairs.
Instead, I’ll talk about all the things you will take away from being a student journalist no matter your post-grad plans.
You might not interview RBG, but you’ll talk to some pretty interesting people on and off campus. You’ll venture beyond your normal path from dorm to lecture to dinner: to the Palo Alto courthouse, to the offices of professors far outside your department, to a dingy basement section of the Med School where you feel like you need some sort of special badge. You’ll hear concerns you weren’t aware of. You’ll care more about what happens outside your bubble within the Bubble. You’ll start to comprehend just how complicated Stanford is and how many stories are lurking if you ask.
You’ll talk to some people you disagree with, with the goal of understanding their view. You’ll dig into nuance, finding all sorts of beliefs challenged in the face of another person’s concrete experience.
You’ll encounter pushy people and figure out, over time, how to hold your ground. When something wild happens, you’ll drop your homework to go do something much more stimulating. You’ll sweat the details, because they matter and because if you don’t, you will definitely hear about it.
You’ll become a more curious person, empowered when you have questions to go talk to people who can help you find the answers. You’ll learn to be persistent: to make that extra phone call, send the follow-up email or show up unannounced — because why not?
You’ll feel moved by the things people are willing to share.
You’ll miss some classes and skip some reading, and maybe feel your heartbeat accelerate as you turn in assignments five seconds before they’re due. But you’ll get by. If your dorm room is too far from the Main Quad, you might crash for naps every Thursday on The Daily’s couch, waking up to the murmur of people discussing the news or their group project.
You might feel at times like you’re going crazy. Your roommate might ask you why you’re shredding documents with scissors on a Saturday morning. A professor might call you at 4 a.m. You might stay awake agonizing over whether the article you sent off to the copy editors was fair – and feel dismayed the next day when you realize something fell short. You’ll hear from people upset by coverage and see the many ways The Daily must improve.
You’ll develop a better sense of skepticism, learning to ask more follow-up questions.
You’ll do work you’re proud of — work that in a world of academic papers and theory feels refreshingly immediate in impact and broad in audience. You’ll watch others at The Daily do exciting work and feel equally proud of their successes, whether it’s a scoop or a podcast or a magazine or a beautiful, fast new website that a year ago seemed far out of reach. You’ll take ownership of projects, finding freedom to shape what you do here.
You’ll make some great friends. You’ll be part of a team and make Google Docs with lots of editors. You’ll be reminded often that everyone you work with has something to teach you.
You’ll feel a bit weird when, getting ready to graduate, you realize how much the group of current Daily staffers you know has already shrunk. But you’ll understand that this is natural. You’ll meet up for coffee with a recent Daily alum and feel happy to have shared an experience so important to both of you.
You’ll end up with a big list of all the things you wanted to do or write but never made time for. You’ll almost wish you could go back and do your four years of student journalism over again, with the messy process of learning so much of the basics behind you. You’ll think you could have put it all to better use.
You might even graduate with a story still in draft phase, calls unmade and emails unsent.
Contact Hannah Knowles at hannahknowles14 ‘at’ gmail.com.