Senior Column: The UI pushes Hawkeyes to change the world. Thanks to the DI, I’m ready.

The University of Iowa tells us we’ll be ready to change the world when we leave. After four years at The Daily Iowan, I’m ready to do just that.


Katie Goodale

Marissa Payne poses outside Jessup Hall, where the UI central administration works, with her investigative reporting award on May 9, 2020. She earned the Iowa Newspaper Association’s honor for her April 2019 Modern Piping scoop on the Pharmacy Building change order and thought this photo summed up her relationship with the UI.

It sunk in that my time reporting on the University of Iowa was ending the morning of May 6 as my last President Bruce Harreld interview wrapped up.

Indulging in my request for sappy senior talk, he said of Hawkeye graduates and our emotional impending flights out of the Hawks’ nest, “You in one way or the other, particularly those that engage in high-impact practices, have made our community stronger, better, different.” He happily shared that students who get involved earn higher grades and are more likely to graduate in four years.

Joseph Cress
Then-DI news reporter Marissa Payne (right) reports alongside Iowa higher education reporters at a press conference with state Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland at the University of Northern Iowa on Dec. 5, 2016. This was Payne’s third-ever regents meeting.

For the last time, I’ll break down the jargon: Students are better off for having done something meaningful to complement their college education, and such activities enrich the campus community, too.

How lucky am I to have chosen The Daily Iowan as my high-impact practice.

I came in as a scared freshman and was thrown onto the higher education beat. My editors let 18-year-old me ask questions of a member of the President’s Cabinet in week one (thank you for taking my faculty salary questions, Rod Lehnertz).

Just weeks later, I covered my first state Board of Regents meeting and attempted to write about tuition for the first time, not yet grasping its ties to state funding. It felt overwhelming — the meeting agenda packed with potential stories, high-ranking officials moving about the room with purpose, the presence of seasoned local journalists driving me to compete.

With help from the DI team, I quickly honed my nose for news and found my passion for following the money trail. By junior year, I delivered a scoop after requesting records that showed the UI had paid nearly $4 million for a change order on the Pharmacy Building project to avoid working with Cedar Rapids construction firm Modern Piping as a subcontractor amid costly legal disputes with the company.

Jeff Sigmund for the Iowa Newspaper Association
Marissa Payne reacts to hearing her Modern Piping scoop described as Harrison “Skip” Weber Investigative Reporting Awards are handed out at the Iowa Newspaper Association convention in Des Moines on Feb. 7, 2020.

I’ll always remember the moment at this year’s February Iowa Newspaper Association convention when I realized that I had received the state’s top investigative reporting award. As organizers handed out awards, to my surprise, I began to hear them describe that scoop. I truly didn’t expect it, always believing in the power of my team more than my power individually, and only thinking when I wrote it that it was a public service to shed light on this for our readers.

Chasing stories here has been exhilarating, challenging, stressful, rewarding — an opportunity that has made the DI such a strong training ground for me and hundreds of other journalists since 1868. But it’s because of the people we meet in this newsroom and on the UI campus that I’ll have a hard time moving on.


My college journey started with Kaylee Hasek in Stanley Hall 336. When I picked my room, I searched her on Facebook to make sure I wasn’t choosing to live with a serial killer. Seeing she also listened to Coldplay and Bon Iver, I had a hunch she could be a lifelong friend. I’m blessed that she remains my one non-newsroom best friend here. (We’re only allowed one.)

Of course, there are the folks who’ve been in the newsroom from the start. The young Metro team made the DI feel like a family. I didn’t know then that my fellow quiet reporter Kayli Reese would eventually be my roommate, here to share in the ups and downs of our UI journeys.

And I can’t forget Gage Miskimen, who took me under his wing and still picks on me from time to time as a sibling might. A year ago, I wasn’t sure if I could build upon the foundation our team laid for excellence here in 2018-19. Now, us 20-somethings are Iowa Newspaper of the Year winners. I’m confident I’m leaving the next group with something great, just as he did for me and my team.

There are more than 100 Hawkeyes who made me a proud “Newsroom Mom” these last two years as managing editor and editor-in-chief. I’d do anything for these dedicated, talented, insanely hard-working, powerhouse journalists, and I’ll deeply miss mentoring them.

Marissa Payne
Like vultures, the DI staff descends upon election night pizza before covering the 2018 midterms on Nov. 6, 2018.

Kat Zentz is like my missing journalistic puzzle piece — her artistic flair and eye for strong visuals complements my focused fact-gathering. Not to mention, she’s the best dance partner, whether it’s downtown at Brothers or on spring break (2019) at Whiskey Row in Nashville.

Aadit Tambe inspires me with the power of his passion for digital journalism. I’ll miss the spark in his eyes and his wide smile after finding a new way to use as its own unique storytelling space, but I know our friendship will last a lifetime.

I have the utmost confidence that Sarah Watson and the 2020-21 team will continue this news organization’s tradition of excellence. She’s one of my best friends, always pushing me and lifting my spirits when needed. We’re cut from the same cloth, but I consider her my better half — certainly the half that makes me whole.

Someday, we’ll watch Julia Shanahan win a Pulitzer Prize and won’t be surprised. She’s a winner, and she’s always there to back me up and keep people in line with her fiery spirit.

It’s been a joy to see Brooklyn Draisey come into her own through beautifully written narrative stories and strong leadership. I love her a lot and miss her being able to let me randomly hug her for too long, and I’m grateful to have her to scold me into taking care of myself as a human.

Zandra Skores and Katie Ann McCarver deserve a special shout-out. If you know me, you know being my news editor is a task. My news mind doesn’t take a break — and it seems neither do these two. They’ve gone above and beyond to deliver the stories our community needs told.

It’s been a privilege not only to mentor the young journalists around me, but to be mentored by wonderful role models.

Professor Daniel Lathrop, really an honorary DI coach, saw potential in me and encourages me to own my awesomeness. Similarly, Associated Press correspondent and 2002-03 DI editor Ryan Foley took an interest in my DI career early on and showed me the possibilities of great investigative journalism right here in Iowa — a thrill for wonky folks like us.

Katie Goodale
Marissa Payne, Sarah Watson, and Aadit Tambe pose with legendary TV anchor Tom Brokaw in the newsroom on Jan. 27, 2020 after Brokaw interviewed the trio about the DI’s coverage of the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

The DI has the most supportive coaches imaginable. I will miss politics coach Lyle Muller’s nitpicks and the extra pride that comes with his praise, knowing that means we’ve truly nailed something after hard work. (He can confirm we knocked coverage of the Iowa caucuses out of the park.) Writing coach Jenn Wagner has been the school mom I needed here, always checking in on me and building us up as storytellers.

There simply aren’t enough words to convey gratitude for Publisher Jason Brummond, who has given me so much. He looks out for my success and makes sure I have the opportunities I deserve for my hard work. Anytime I’d express self-doubt, he would seem to believe in me so strongly that I’d pause to wonder why I was so unsure in the first place. I wouldn’t be who I am today as a person, journalist, and leader without his mentorship, and I’m assured knowing his support will last long after my DI career.

I will do anything I can to pay it forward for this institution that’s given me everything. COVID-19 upended the last portion of my year, but thanks to the DI, I figured out how to redefine it, as photo coach Danny Wilcox Frazier advised me to do.

This was the DI’s time to step up to keep Hawkeyes connected when we needed it most. Covering something so unprecedented and widely impactful will be among the greatest forms of public service I provide in my entire career.


Thinking about how this all began, I remember walking around campus with my mom on a spring 2016 visit when I knew for certain I’d be a Hawkeye. I nudged her when we walked by President Harreld on the Pentacrest: That’s the university president and I think I’ll report on him, I said.

Jake Maish
Marissa Payne shows UI President Bruce Harreld and his wife Mary the DI’s rather large Newspaper of the Year trophy at a reception in the DI newsroom on Feb. 11, 2020.

And that, I sure did, the numbers show. According to my rough count, around 35 percent of the 350 or so articles I’ve written for the DI quote or reference Harreld. Each story empowered me as a first-generation student to navigate higher education, as I learned the system from the ground up through tenacious reporting.

When I arrived, Harreld was a story unto himself after the circumstances of his 2015 hiring. Covering him has taught me how to report on public officials. He’s played a role in me learning the importance of searching deeply for and communicating the truth.

Here’s the scoop on Harreld: The Big Bad Businessman picture painted of him doesn’t match the person I know.

The first thing I saw on my phone screen the morning after the DI won Newspaper of the Year was an email notification from him saying how proud he was of our success and congratulating me for the honor — and for my individual award, earned for the previously mentioned story that wasn’t exactly flattering for his university.

To Harreld and the Hawkeye community, I’m forever grateful you’ve trusted me to tell this campus’ stories and for teaching me that the best journalists keep the community they serve at the forefront of their work. As long as my relationships are founded on trust and respect, I’ll be able to produce the impactful accountability journalism that’s so critical to our democracy.

In our last interview, Harreld said he almost didn’t believe in goodbyes. The head Hawkeye assured me that the university that’s prepared me, challenged me, and changed me will always be part of my life. Now, I’m more than ready to change the world.

Katie Goodale
Marissa Payne and her parents DID IT! Payne is proud to be the first in her family to graduate college.