A reflection on writing for The Stanford Daily as a high schooler

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When I applied for The Stanford Daily’s Summer Journalism program in 2019 in the spring of my sophomore year, I had been part of my school’s journalism club only for a few months. Although I originally joined simply for a space to hone my writing in a new way, I quickly grew to love my school’s small, tight-knit club.

Through journalism, I forged closer connections with the school community. I had opportunities to interact with different students and teachers I never would have encountered otherwise, and covering events allowed me to learn much more about all the thought and care that went into planning them.

That spring, I applied to The Daily’s program looking for a way to continue learning about journalism over the summer. Our club was still fairly new at the time, and I hoped writing for The Stanford Daily would allow me to gain experience and training in a new environment.

During our Monday night workshops over pizza dinners at The Daily, I learned to describe the structure of an effective article for the first time and gained a greater familiarity with the drafting and revision process. Working in the university setting also pushed me out of my comfort zone in ways that have shaped my development both as a writer and as a person.

Sourcing for a community much larger than my high school sphere was incredibly daunting. To move past that, I learned to ground myself in what I could control, spending hours researching and preparing my questions before I even reached out to potential sources. I brooded over my emails before sending them. Before interviews, I was visibly nervous.

Even so, I saw how important it was to feature diverse voices in every piece — and by the time summer came to a close, I realized how much I loved listening to the stories that others had to tell. I grew less hesitant with each email I sent, each article I wrote. Through journalism, my personal growth has been an extension and reflection of my confidence in my abilities as a writer.

In the summer of 2019, being immersed in journalism at The Daily helped me become a more open and engaged person — someone more comfortable with her own voice. When I got back to school last fall, an interview with a teacher about the recycling initiative she implemented early in the year went more smoothly than I could have hoped for before The Daily’s program. At club meetings, I became a much more active contributor, too. Having learned about effective sourcing, I am more confident approaching staff members and students for my articles, and I am a better editor because of my experiences working with editors at The Daily, whose commentary helped me think critically about my work.

This spring, I submitted my application for the program once more, hoping it would be a chance to build on what I learned the previous summer and the past school year. And in many ways, it has — although this year, we don’t meet in person every Monday night. Rather, because of the pandemic, our beat meetings and lectures take place over Zoom. Though working online has presented difficulties, it has also allowed us to meet more frequently than we did last summer, helping to form an entirely new sense of connection with our editors and with each other.

The more technical aspects of journalism that I learned and practiced throughout the past year guided my writing as this year’s articles took shape, and attending webinars gave me a glimpse of what professional journalism might look like. From talking my ideas over with my editor each week, through reviewing interview questions with her, to countless rounds of edits, I felt supported at each step along the way.

Although sourcing was understandably more difficult this summer, I deeply enjoyed the interviews I conducted. Along the way, I had the opportunity to witness firsthand how hard various groups across campus were working to adapt to the challenges that COVID-19 presented. I came to understand different facets of life at Stanford better than I ever have, and I was excited to share what I learned.

At the same time, I don’t think I have fully overcome the issues I grappled with a year ago, especially when it comes to sourcing. I still write and rewrite my emails before hitting send. Before interviews, sometimes I still spend hours preparing. But I have learned how to see beyond that self-doubt to produce the best writing I can.

As I’m writing this article, the program has come to a close, and my senior year has already started, albeit remotely — but I know now more than ever that journalism is something I want to pursue, both now and in the future.

As we begin organizing our journalism club meetings through Zoom, I’m excited to see how the club adapts to an online format and continues to grow. Having always printed our papers, this fall marks the first time we’ll be publishing our articles online.

Through journalism, I learn about the community and all its different forms, both through covering news about others and through the connections I form with fellow writers. I hope my work continues to amplify the voices within my community.

Contact Alena Zeng at alenazeng ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Alena is a high school student writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. She was also a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.