Between the pages: Graduating staffers reflect on time at The Daily

June 25, 2024, 10:41 p.m.

Sam Catania, Vol. 262-263 Editor in Chief

That The Daily can consistently put out a newsletter 5 days a week has always amazed me.

While editor in chief last year, I was acutely aware that there wasn’t a great reason why a bunch of 20-somethings should come together to write 20-40 articles a week. No one has to do it. Most staffers don’t intend to become journalists.

And yet.

I guess what sort of perplexed me was that many things at Stanford can feel self-serving. You take a class to try and find a mentor. You join a club to help you get into med school. You do research with a professor to try and get a job.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these types of motivations — I think they’re pretty rational. But I could never draw a clear throughline on why someone might contribute to The Daily. Or more directly, what The Daily might contribute back to them.

When I joined The Daily my freshman year, editors would commonly say, “The Daily is not The New York Times.” Originally, I thought this was a self-own. We’d never be as good as The New York Times; our standards were lower; we were bad reporters, etc.

Over time, I realized two things. First, these insults don’t have to be true; we can do good work if we set our minds to it. Second, the saying wasn’t really meant to be an insult in the first place. Rather, its purpose was to state something obvious: The Daily is different from The New York Times.

While The New York Times is entirely a workplace, The Daily falls somewhere in between a workplace and a club. It’s an incorporated California nonprofit with a board of directors, tax returns, payroll, accountants and a lease. But it’s also a group of friends.

While The New York Times publishes to readers the world over, The Daily is fully ingrained within the community about which it writes. As I stated in my reflection on The Daily’s 50th year of independence, this puts us closer to the stories we tell, but it also means there is additional pressure to do a great job telling them.

While The New York Times is expected to send reporters into war zones, trailing the cars of celebrities and throughout the halls of the White House, The Daily got flamed on Fizz last fall when I made the call to send a few reporters into Crothers after a man pretended to be a Stanford student and lived there for months. (For what it’s worth, had I known we would get royally roasted online, I 100% still would’ve sent still would’ve sent those reporters into Crothers. It was a very important story and we urgently needed to talk to sources!)

Because The Daily isn’t the same as a national newsroom but also isn’t exactly a club, its value is different for everyone who enters. You might improve your writing. You may come out a better leader. Hopefully, you’ll make some friends. You’ll definitely eat a lot of Treehouse pizza.Regardless, I think these unclear and nonprescribed driving motivations are what make The Daily special. Unlike so many things one could do on Stanford’s campus, it is truly much more of a ‘choose your own adventure’ than a pre-charted course with a fixed destination.

The Daily is not The New York Times. But it might be the adventure you’re looking for.

***

Emma Talley, Vol. 261 Editor in Chief

The Stanford Daily is lucky enough to have its own building on campus, affectionately referred to as “the house.” Oftentimes, before COVID-19 sent us all to different corners of the world, we talked about making the house feel like a home. I am incredibly privileged and grateful to have been able to call The Daily house my home for the past five years. 

I wandered into the house as an 18-year-old frosh with absolutely no interest in journalism. Unlike many of my co-staffers, I had not written for my high school newspaper, or really written much at all. It was on the lush lawns outside the house, as journalism professors R.B. Brenner and Janine Zacharia screamed reporting fundamentals at several hundred new Daily recruits and myself, that I fell in love. I was shy. Really shy. Talking on the phone literally gave me panic attacks. But reporting forced me to talk to people, to get to know them and to overcome this huge mental barrier because I was doing something more important than my fear — telling stories. 

It’s fun sometimes to think about my first stories. While covering a city council meeting for Janine’s introduction to reporting class as a frosh, I remember my body trembling as I approached city council members. Since then, I have covered wildfires, visited evacuation camps, accompanied a kindergartner to his first day of in-person learning, and even asked the California Governor some very pointed questions. My time at The Daily has molded me into the person I have become. 

At the start of the pandemic, when my parents haphazardly collected me from my frosh dorm with a car full of toilet paper, canned goods and peanut butter, The Daily remained a constant. As distance-learning droned on, the friends I made at The Daily became my community. Then I made the completely out-of-character decision to take a leave of absence to pursue journalism. The Daily funded my first real job at The San Francisco Chronicle. When campus finally re-opened, The Daily welcomed me back with open arms. Serving as editor in chief of The Daily during my sophomore year was the opportunity of a lifetime. I have met some of my very best friends and closest confidants while sitting in half-broken office chairs around an uneven wooden table and cold pizza. 

As I graduate college, The Daily still cannot get rid of me. I will be returning next year in a full time position as Chief Operating Officer, managing the business side of Daily operations. A proud alum once told me, “The Stanford Daily is an institution.” And in many ways it is. It has served as the organ of our university long before I ever walked through the doors, and it will continue to serve the community with hard-hitting, effective and fair student-led journalism long after I leave. Yet, as alumni, students and journalists, The Daily will always be a place we can call home.

***

Carolyn Stein, Vol. 263 Magazine Editor

Few things consistently keep me up at night: life after graduation, the direction of U.S. foreign policy and correction lines in my stories. 

On more than a few occasions, I’ve sent my editors Slack messages at ungodly hours about things no sane person would ever think about. ‘Cause even after I went back through my interview transcripts, made sure all quotes were properly contextualized, triple-checked spellings of names, re-worded the same sentence five times, I always think of something that jolts me awake before my head hits the pillow.

“Was it the 15th or the 50th annual lecture?”

“Did I get all the statistics right?” 

“Did that person say they were a faculty or a staff member, and did I get it right in the story?”

Sometimes, these last-minute panic attacks save me from the dreaded correction, followed by the line: The Daily regrets this error – a phrase so infamous within the organization that for a while we were selling mugs with the phrase on it.

But more often than not, it’s always the things I don’t think about that result in the correction line. 

The date was wrong.

They’re a representative of the house, not a member of congress.

That local Bay Area animal shelter is not the Humane Society, just Humane.

To the average reader, some of these correction lines aren’t a big deal. To me, they’ve always felt like someone put a dagger through my heart then removed it and that someone was me because I’m the one who messed up. I’m the reporter whose latest article now has a correction line. I hurt my own credibility. And The Daily’s credibility. And the credibility of journalists everywhere. And the whole world saw it. 

The Daily regrets this error.

But even after every correction line, one thing remains the same: life goes on. And you’re still a reporter. And The Daily hasn’t fallen. And journalists are still doing their jobs despite low trust in media organizations. And it probably wasn’t that many people who saw you mess up. And those that did probably forgot about it within five seconds. 

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. Well, that’s kind of true. Journalists in general are obsessive about correction lines because we know the gravity that even the smallest correction line can have. One of my journalism professors used to say “If you got one thing wrong in your article, then what else did you get wrong?” 

But the truth is I’m also a recovering perfectionist. Like many incoming frosh, I arrived at Stanford thinking I needed to be the best at everything. I had to be perfect on paper to get in here, and I felt like I had to keep that energy going. Errors were not an option.

But at The Daily, especially in my first few years, I was anything but perfect. My first article, which was a co-byline with two more experienced reporters, had multiple correction lines. I’ve had sources yell at me over the phone post-publication. I’ve missed important details while editing articles. After all of these occasions, I panicked and thought the world was going to end. The mug that said The Daily regrets this error, though a favorite among my parents, felt like it was rubbing salt in the wound every time I saw it.

Luckily, the world never ended after any mistake I made (and my god was I dramatic for thinking it would). If anything, all of my mess-ups at The Daily only made me a better reporter. 

Next time, I was going to triple-check all the dates. 

Next time, I was going to make sure I got that person’s title right.

Next time, I would make sure to know the difference between the Humane Society and Humane. 

And if there’s anything else I’ve learned, it’s that your mess-ups, no matter how small or big they feel, do not define you for the rest of your life. There are always opportunities to bounce back. Every correction line I got gave me fuel to go back out and find another story. And I’m grateful for The Daily for providing me a space to fail, try again and learn to live with my mistakes. 

And I’m especially grateful that I have a mug to remind me that all those times I messed up in my stories, the world didn’t end. 

Sam Catania ’24 is the Volume 262 Editor in Chief of The Daily. Previously, he was Chief Technology Officer, the producer of the weekly video roundup, a news beat reporter covering COVID-19 on Stanford's campus and the assessment team leader of The Daily's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) team. Sam hails from Philadelphia and is studying Symbolic Systems. You can follow him on Twitter @sbcatania. Contact him at scatania 'at' stanforddaily.comEmma Talley is the Vol. 265 Executive Editor. Previously, she was the Vol. 261 Editor in Chief. She is from Sacramento, California, and has previously worked as a two-time news editor and the newsroom development director. Emma has reported with the San Francisco Chronicle with the metro team covering breaking news and K-12 education. Contact her at etalley 'at' stanforddaily.com.Carolyn Stein serves as the Magazine Editor for Vol. 263. She is double majoring in communications and East Asian studies. Her favorite activity is going on unnecessarily long walks. Contact her at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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