Senior Column | Grateful to be a DI alum

As my days in Iowa City come to an end, I’m reminded of where I started.


Katie Goodale

Photo by Katie Goodale (Contributed by Julia Shanahan).

Julia Shanahan, Politics Editor

If you had told me when I first walked into The Daily Iowan newsroom four years ago that I would eventually stand face-to-face with Joe Biden for an interview about his sexual assault allegations, I probably would have laughed.

I often joke with new reporters that my first politics story was so bad it didn’t even get published online. I had a little bit of journalism experience from my time working on my high school newspaper, but the upperclassmen in the newsroom scared me. I knew it was going to be a lot of work before my writing could stand up against theirs.

I’m only days from graduating from the University of Iowa with a body of work that landed me a full-time reporting job with Report For America, and I have a box full of plaques and certificates from the dozens of statewide and national awards I’ve accumulated during my time at the DI.

I knew from the time I was in elementary school that I wanted to be a writer, but my dream to be a journalist didn’t happen overnight. It happened over the course of a couple of years and hundreds of meetings with Lyle Muller, our politics coach, where he would rip apart my writing until I had a persistent voice in my head telling me what Lyle was going to ask me at our next meeting, or what he was going to highlight on my story.

“Tell me in one sentence what your story is about.” This was the statement from Lyle I dreaded and could never respond to concisely. After some time, I was able to answer that question, and my stories began to have fewer red markings and question marks in the margins. With Lyle’s blessing, I knew I could make it as a journalist, and I started envisioning myself sitting in the White House press briefing room like other successful DI alumni.

The 2020 Iowa caucuses (which actually began in late 2018) was a whirlwind of a reporting experience and validated my ultimate goal of wanting to one day report on the president of the U.S. I started out covering candidates like Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson at Prairie Lights bookstore and in local coffee shops, and before we knew it, Democratic heavyweights like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were holding regular rallies in eastern Iowa. We started to form relationships with campaign staffers and began scoring exclusive interviews with nearly all of the Democratic frontrunners — and this eventually came to include now-President Joe Biden.

My time at the UI did not come without challenges. I was diagnosed with a serious mental illness after my sophomore year, where I then had to adjust to a medication regimen while working full-time to cover the flood of political news happening in the state. Growing up with bipolar II disorder, I didn’t always feel comfortable in my own skin. I had a lot of social anxiety and often found it difficult to get through a school day or complete an assignment.

You can imagine my amazement when I stood in front of Biden and asked him multiple questions as to why he chose not to apologize to the women accusing him of sexual assault. I did not want to waste the only interview I would likely ever get with Biden on questions about student-loan debt or tuition prices.

I left that interview with an adrenaline rush I had never felt before. Having a career as a White House reporter suddenly felt reachable, and I can thank the mentoring I received at the DI.

I like to tell people that my major isn’t journalism or political science — it’s The Daily Iowan. We all push each other to be better. I looked up to former Editor-in-Chief Marissa Payne during my first couple of years at the DI because I wanted to achieve her level of dedication and commitment to local journalism. Current Executive Editor Sarah Watson, who was also my direct editor on the politics team, has also been a fantastic peer mentor. I never wanted to let her down (Watson even showed me my first cow at the Johnson County fair after I had been reporting on the agriculture beat for almost a year).

We’ve all earned serious bragging rights since being at the DI — 2x Iowa Newspaper of Year, INA’s best coverage of government and politics, a print Pacemaker, best-all-around daily student paper from the Society of Professional Journalists, and for me personally, a finalist for national Student Reporter of the Year from the Associated Collegiate Press. These are awards that we’ve won together, and while serving our community as full-time journalists and students.

I’m leaving the DI a better person than I was when I first walked in. I wouldn’t take back a single late night, missed Halloween weekend, or Thursday in the newsroom.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.