The Weekly: Troy Closson opens up about his time at The Daily and pressure as editor in chief

Cassidy Jackson and Kalen Luciano

Cassidy Jackson: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Cassidy Jackson. Welcome to The Weekly. To open the new quarter, I sat down with Troy Closson, The Daily’s editor in chief. In our conversation, Closson talks candidly about what led him to be EIC.

Troy Closson: My name is Troy Closson. I’m a current senior, and I study journalism. I’m from Laurel, Maryland, in case anyone cares. On campus, I do a lot of stuff with like Wildcat Welcome, like I was a PA for two years. At The Daily, I started my fall of freshman year, and I started on the sports desk. I quickly realized sports was not for me and then moved around. I actually left The Daily for a while, because I didn’t enjoy being here but then came back to write opinion and did that for a long time. So I was an opinion editor and then a managing editor and now I’m editor in chief.

Cassidy Jackson: Amazing, I know you said you start started with sports writing, and then you took a break. When did you come back and start doing opinions?

Troy Closson: So, I kind of after fall quarter freshman year was like, “I’m not going to come back,” and then the next, first five, six weeks of the next quarter, I was like, “I’m done.” I didn’t do anything for The Daily. Then around that time, I had another friend who was actually writing columns. I had just talked to him generally about how I was feeling on campus, and he was like, “Maybe you would write about that in the opinion section and start processing your identity there.” My first column was about the need for more Black History Month events on campus. So, a lot of my columns, really throughout the entire time I wrote for opinion, were about race.

Cassidy Jackson: What was that decision like to finally decide to come back?

Troy Closson: It was definitely hard. Even when I came back that winter, like I wasn’t sure if I was just gonna write one or two columns and then go away again or actually stay. But I think the biggest thing was I remember writing that first column and writing another one and writing another one, and I think every time I wrote a column, I felt like I understood how I was feeling more. I was seeing all my friends love being here and love the newsroom. But for me, I was like, “I don’t like sports. I don’t like campus. I don’t know what it is.” I think that eventually I realized it was the racial makeup of our newsroom at the time, and I think writing columns every week just helped me realize how I was feeling specifically.

Cassidy Jackson: What was I guess the racial breakdown of the newsroom at the beginning of your time at Northwestern?

Troy Closson: Yeah, at least fall quarter when I joined, the editor in chief was white, all the managing editors were white, most of the desk editors were white.

Cassidy Jackson: Just a quick note here — The Daily basically has three kinds of editors. Desk editors oversee specific areas of coverage, like campus or sports. Once those editors finish reading a story, a managing editor looks at it. Above the managing editors is the editor in chief.

Troy Closson: And I was the only black reporter on staff. I had no black editors, no other black reporters in the newsroom, which was just insane to me, because I had never been in an environment where that was the case.

Cassidy Jackson: Can you talk a little bit about how lack of representation affected you?

Troy Closson: It made me feel pretty isolated because I knew what I was seeing, but I also was like, “I don’t have anyone to talk to to process this with, and I also don’t know if this is how other people are feeling.” I think it was either after fall or winter quarter, probably winter, I talked with one of the managing editors and editor in chief, about the fact that we need more people of color in this newsroom. I just didn’t feel like those concerns were really prioritized. I think it was just something that was like, “We all know this is the case, but we’re not really doing anything.”

Cassidy Jackson: You wound up continuing with opinions and you were opinions editor. You were opinions editor and then went to managing. What made you stay?

Troy Closson: For me, had I had a black managing editor when I was joining The Daily, it would have definitely changed my experience. A big part of it was that I wanted to do that for other people coming in.

Cassidy Jackson: Closson saw his presence pay off spring of 2018 after writing his first investigative piece on the 50th anniversary of the Bursar’s Office Takeover.

Troy Closson: I like remember pitching that story. And the In Focus editors, who are the investigation editors, I told them that I didn’t really want to write this story because I was doing a lot of other stuff that quarter. But I said, “If nobody else pitches this, then I guess I’ll write it.” They were like, “Okay, here you go. Take the story.” I was like, “I’m kind of surprised nobody else pitched this.” That kind of made me realize how important it was to have representation, not even just representation, but just people in managing and editing positions, who can think of different story ideas and who are willing to write different story ideas. I heard a lot of other people on campus being like, “I’m really glad you wrote this. I’m really glad like The Daily did this.” And I don’t know that it would have happened, like, had I not been there that quarter.

Cassidy Jackson: Although Closson was proud of the final product, he struggled to feel qualified at the start. Now, as editor in chief, he experiences similar stress.

Troy Closson: I didn’t even think I was qualified to write that story, because I had been doing opinion and only had written or reported like four or five other stories before that. I was super nervous that I wouldn’t do that story well. The first day and then all the days after the story was actually published, I was so worried that I was gonna get an email that was like, “You missed this huge part of the story” or that, “You didn’t do this interview the way you should have.” But nobody emailed that, and I was super happy with how it turned out. So I think now in this role, that’s something that I try to think back to, because I do feel nervous about doing things wrong or missing certain stories.

Cassidy Jackson: Reflecting back on his rise in The Daily, Closson never thought he’d be here.

Troy Closson: I had for a long time literally never wanted to do this position in my life and was like, “I don’t want to do this. I’m never gonna apply for this.” And I think I eventually did. After last spring, I just wanted to like, A, continue the path that we were going down in terms of diversity inclusion related stuff. I think we’ve improved a lot on that internally over the past couple of years. And I think that externally, like outside The Daily’s newsroom, those changes aren’t always visible. So I wanted to make those changes more visible. But I think one thing that had always held me back from applying was that there’s only been two other black editor in chiefs in The Daily’s hundred years of publication. For me personally, I knew that I would feel like a lot of pressure to just be perfect in it, in everything but especially when it comes to like writing about and covering the black community on campus and just communities of color on campus specifically. I just knew that like, not even if there weren’t mistakes, if we weren’t like expanding our coverage into that area, I would feel like I wasn’t doing a good job. But I eventually decided to apply because, I think we’ve already gone down a path where we’re like covering those stories more and doing more in those areas. So I just wanted to continue that.

Cassidy Jackson: You mentioned that there’s only been two other black EICs of The Daily. What do you hope that means to people outside of The Daily?

Troy Closson: For incoming students and for current freshmen now, I hope that they see this is a newsroom where you belong here basically, and that regardless of whether or not you have experience in this before, regardless of your backgrounds or anything, you can belong here. For me, I’ve always felt underqualified for everything I’ve applied for basically and I hope that for people whether or not they’re like current freshmen or even in The Daily now I hope they just see like, “He’s been able to do this. So maybe I can do it too.” In the past couple of years, I think our staff has become more racially diverse, but I don’t think that’s because of anything that we’ve done necessarily. I hope that one thing we can do this fall and winter is be more intentional about going out into spaces like the Black House and like the MCC and actually talking to people about our own experiences in the newsroom and being honest with them about like, “These are the challenges that I’ve had, and this, this is why I stayed.”

Cassidy Jackson: You’ve mentioned the word “pressure,” a few times in regards to that article you just talked about and taking over the EIC role. How do you currently handle the pressure that you feel in the EIC role, knowing that you’re the third black editor that The Daily’s had?

Troy Closson: I think I should figure out a way to handle it. I knew in the spring when I applied that it was going to be something that I was feeling but didn’t really know how to navigate it. I think the biggest way that I plan on navigating it is hopefully just to make other people in the newsroom feel like diversity and inclusion is of the same importance that I feel it is. Because then I’m just not the one carrying all of that.

Cassidy Jackson: While Closson is trying to navigate the newsroom, freshmen have spent the last week transitioning to Northwestern. Audio reporter Kalen Luciano talked to first-years about their first impressions.

Kalen Luciano: After months of waiting, the Class of 2023 started classes this week, feeling both a mix of nerves and excitement. We spoke to freshmen Maggie Grond, Harrison Larner, Clay Lawhead, Stuart Sumner, Andy Johnston and Samantha Noeth Lewis.

Maggie Grond: The transition has been interesting. I was very worried about coming here originally. I was very nervous when I left, but I think after getting here and meeting people and settling in a little bit, I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s been a lot of fun meeting new people and everything feels very new right now, which has been good.

Harrison Larner: However, with the Wildcat Welcome programming, it was sort of like we sort of eased into things. Personally, we really bonded as a PA group, which helped it kind of smooth the transition.

Clay Lawhead: The transition went really well, but at first it was not going well, you know. At first, it was kind of hard because I wanted to make friends right away. I wanted to get comfortable, and I couldn’t do that for the first couple days. I had to just wait it out and meet people and figure out what I was going to do.

Stuart Sumner: The biggest difference is my time is my own. That’s a pretty significant difference. I mean, back when I was at home, my time was primarily my own, but also I was letting my parents know where I was all the time and like making sure I was making plans with all my friends and everything had to kind of be scheduled, and now, I have a lot of free time, which I’m getting used to for sure.

Lawhead: The biggest difference is probably it’s much more respectful I guess. It’s because people use pronouns, and people have TNDs, and they understand. They don’t have any judgment, you know?

Larner: You kind of have to make adult decisions sometimes. For example, when your room is messy at home, you might have someone else trying to tell you what to do or fix it. But then once you get to college, you have to be like, “Oh I need to do that by myself,” or “I need to do my laundry at this time because this is the only time for you to do it or the washing machines are open.”

Lawhead: I’m worried about being unprepared. I always feel like I’m being unprepared and like bringing a notebook and a pen is not enough for me.

Grond: I’m just hoping that my professors seem nice, and I’m worried about the course load and just making sure that I’m able to do stuff and not feel overwhelmed by the amount of homework and stuff I have to do.

Andy Johnston: I’m excited just for the independence of college and all the opportunities that affords.

Samantha Noeth Lewis: I am excited to meet new people. I think my social circle has been pretty small in the past, and I’m just excited to get to experience a breadth of diversity that Northwestern has.

Cassidy Jackson: That’s it for The Weekly. Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.