By Erin Woo
It’s impossible to sum up four years in one column. Any framing inevitably leaves out so much: electric nights crammed into a dorm room or Row house lounge, turned fluid by lateness and laughter. Golden afternoons in Berlin, sunlight and sky filtered through Dahlem’s verdant trees. Evenings emerging out of the subway into the crisp winter air of New York City, lights gleaming and cars honking. Writing this, I wish I had written for The Grind all along, that I would be leaving this place with a collection of essays to remember it by, instead of all these fractured memories that I’m worried I’ll lose, otherwise.
When talking to younger staffers, I often emphasize how much of my Stanford experience I spent away from The Daily. I didn’t become a desk editor until sophomore year. I went abroad twice. I am living proof that you can f*ck around and still run this thing. Here in my senior spring, though, it feels unmistakeable how much my time here will forever feel bound up in the rhythms and routines of this paper that has meant so much to me.
I joined my freshman fall, a frosh unsure of what I wanted. For quite some time, I didn’t think that what I wanted was The Daily: I joke about how I tried to quit my freshman winter but my desk editors asked me to finish up one final piece, and by the time the R&DE spokesperson finally responded I had changed my mind. For that, Jocelyn, thank you, and think how close you came to not having to deal with me these past three-plus years. In my freshman spring, I became a copy editor and fell in love with the adrenaline of breaking news. Sophomore year, I became a news desk editor and then a news managing editor, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In its best moments, The Daily was a home on campus. Late production nights eating pizza and tossing around banter as we blew past print deadlines time and time again. Breaking news stories at any hour of the day or night, dropping everything to jump on my bike and race to the Daily house, all of us crowded around one speakerphone, six people tripping over each other on the same Google doc. We were buoyed by how much we cared about the work and each other, and I felt like I had stumbled onto something special, something I never wanted to let go — the feeling that left me checking the printsheet from thousands of miles away in Berlin, filing a breaking news scoop from abroad, because I missed this place and I loved it.
In its worst moments, The Daily was cliquey and clumsy, building exclusive walls around its warmest inner circles, writing stories without sufficient concern for the people they were about. We let drive spill into burnout. We failed to adequately engage with the communities inside and outside of our staff. We were never malicious, but we always could have done better, and more.
And then, in my senior spring, I got the chance to run this place, an opportunity I thought I had lost and was so grateful once more to find. I entered the role with big dreams and ambitious plans. I couldn’t be prouder of how some of them turned out: the creation of news beat reporters, opinion columnists, the DEI team. But I also stepped into a position that was so much more challenging than I had anticipated, in ways by turns all too visible — the string of mistakes and crises that felt too often never-ending, too often self-inflicted — and seemingly obvious but difficult to fully understand if you have not also held this job: the weight of being the final call on every decision. The responsibility of running this organization, a duct-taped miracle of moving parts.
I say often how insane it is that we make this happen: that we manage to put out an entire issue, day after day after day. In many ways, we are nothing more than a group of almost twenty-somethings granted outsize responsibility and a correspondingly outsize sense of self-importance, and although we always get the paper out, sometimes the seams show. Last June, we struggled to play catchup along with the rest of the media industry, stumbling over new vocabulary and a new understanding of our past and present shortcomings. We ventured into new conceptions of objectivity, of conflicts of interest, of movement journalism and community-centered reporting.
Much of our most vital work this year and this volume has come in continuing what we started those first turbocharged weeks. Among what I’m most proud to have presided over this volume are our series of conversations with community and activist organizations, and our sustained coverage of the fight to departmentalize African and African American Studies, both of which were spearheaded in large part by our principled and insightful executive editor Layo Laniyan ’22.
But this is where we have encountered our most salient growing pains, too: mortifying gaffes and continuing coverage gaps, to be sure, but also thorny ethical questions about how to balance our diversity mandate with accountability reporting on activists and student government representatives from the very communities we then turn around to try to repair our relationship with and recruit from. About how to weigh longstanding journalistic norms against care for the sources and stories we are entrusted with, and about how to balance advocacy and independence while letting our reporters bring their full selves to their work. In the wake of alumna Emily Wilder’s firing, it’s little comfort to see that professional journalism organizations don’t seem to have it figured out, either.
Over the course of my volume, the editors and I have done our best to answer these questions. When we chose wrong, I firmly believe that it was never ill-intentioned, and it was always rectified as swiftly and as well as we could. We are still students, doing our best, in between papers and psets and everything else that makes up our lives here. I hope you’ll grant us that grace and understanding, even as you may disagree with our choices and their outcomes. I take full responsibility for any area in which we erred, and thank my tremendous team of editors, staffers and mentors for every area in which we excelled.
My term will end when I graduate on June 13. I’m headed next to The New York Times, where I’ll report on tech and continue trying to find my place in this precarious industry. Once I’m gone, our incoming editor-in-chief Kate Selig ’23 and the rest of the Volume 260 staff will continue grappling with the quandaries we faced this spring, along with new ones, I’m sure. In my final words of my final article for this paper, I invite you to join them. To chart your own path through this organization, which may look everything or nothing like mine. You’ll get to know people you wouldn’t have encountered and cover stories you couldn’t have imagined. You’ll get to be the adult in the room, making real-world decisions that shape whose stories get told and how. You’ll make friends and break news.
It won’t be the whole of your Stanford experience. But it just might end up being the best and brightest part.
Erin Woo is the Volume 259 editor-in-chief. You can reach her on Twitter at @erinkwoo and, soon, in San Francisco.