Opinion: The DI opened the door for me and hundreds of other journalists — it’s worth supporting

The Daily Iowan was foundational to my journalism experience, and has been for hundreds of other journalists through the years who’ve called the newsroom home. Our dedication to excellence and commitment to the UI and Iowa City community is worth supporting on Giving Tuesday.

Daily+Iowan+Managing+Editor+Sarah+Watson+poses+for+a+portrait+inside+Adler+Journalism+Building+on+March+3%2C+2020.+Watson+will+serve+as+editor+in+chief+in+fall+of+2020.

Ryan Adams

Daily Iowan Managing Editor Sarah Watson poses for a portrait inside Adler Journalism Building on March 3, 2020. Watson will serve as editor in chief in fall of 2020.

Sarah Watson , Managing Editor


Arriving at the University of Iowa campus was initially daunting for me: I left a town of about 5,000 where everyone knew everyone, to attend college with 30,000 classmates.

I knew I liked writing, and had worked for my high school publication and hometown newspaper.

The Daily Iowan seemed like a natural fit.

Little did I know the organization would become the foundation for my college career and open doors to opportunities I never knew existed my freshman year, as I set off to report on the student-government beat.

Soon I’d lead the DI’s politics coverage, interview lawmakers in Des Moines and Washington, and I would even watch my boss accept Iowa’s top award for newspapers in the state. 

Next year, I have the honor of leading this crew of 120 dedicated student journalists as executive editor.

Sometimes I’m still in awe of everything that the DI has accomplished this year. For nearly all of 2019, presidential hopefuls traipsed through Iowa, determined to shake every hand and kiss every child at a meet-and-greet rope line. Thanks to the generous support from our Ethics and Politics Initiative, DI journalists, including myself, interviewed every presidential hopeful that criss-crossed Johnson County — amounting to nearly two-dozen candidates.

Our visuals staff captured political rallies and intimate meet-and-greets. We followed the presidential hopefuls until Feb. 3, and even beyond, sending reporters and photographers to rallies in Minnesota and Vermont on Super Tuesday. 

Our sports staff hit the road to cover Division-1 athletics, including the 2019 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, when the Hawkeyes downed the University of Southern California Trojans. 

The weekend after the caucuses, our staff learned we’d won the Iowa Newspaper Association’s 2020 Newspaper of the Year award, competing with Iowa’s largest metro papers.

RELATED: The Daily Iowan named Newspaper of the Year in state journalism contest

These opportunities are unique to student journalists who invest their time and energy into the DI. Competing alongside professional print publications and producing engaging work that best informs our community is not just a goal — it’s a tradition.

The real-world experience other journalists and I have gained through resources provided by the DI cannot be replicated by a classroom project. Never was that more evident to me than on caucus night Feb. 3. 

At 11 p.m. that night, we hatched a plan to rework our front page for the next day hours before our deadline absent caucus results. Several teams simultaneously wrote up reports of the night on location from candidate watch parties, typing alongside journalists from The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, and more.

We thought that would be the biggest news we’d cover as college journalists. Of course, as we all know, it wasn’t.

As the university transitioned online for the rest of the semester to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, so did the DI. But that didn’t mean we stopped telling our community’s stories.

We began printing once a week as most other college newspapers suspended their print publications entirely. Our staffers quickly scrambled to plan our next moves via Zoom, and published an unprecedented print edition during spring break because of our dedication to informing our readers.  

RELATED: Payne: The DI is worth supporting for opportunities it gives young journalists

Throughout the next couple months, our writers and visuals staffers gracefully and doggedly documented how COVID-19 affects our community. My coworkers and I have written nearly 300 stories related to COVID-19, and produced several videos even as the campus closure scattered our staffers across the country. 

The journalism produced by DI staffers is at a caliber that is worth supporting. You’d have a hard time finding a newsroom without a DI alum propelling journalism into a new age. Graduates work for the Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, and the Associated Press, and Iowa newsrooms such as the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.

There’s no question, newsrooms across the country face rocky roads during this time. Canceled events and closed businesses have dried up advertising, and many newspapers are undergoing furloughs and staff reductions. 

Our alums succeed in every corner of the world, because the DI produces professional-grade journalism every day. Contributions from generous donors help the DI further that mission.

Today, May 5, is Giving Tuesday, and the DI is hosting a fundraising drive. I hope you’ll consider donating to further our mission of producing thoughtful and important journalism to better inform our community. 

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