Martinez: The Daily taught me ‘it is better to speak’

Marissa Martinez, Daily Senior Staffer

Graduation Issue 2021

Everyone has a different story of why they joined the school newspaper: some walked right in, others found it later in their college career. I’m not going to pretend I was coy or reserved about joining: I wanted to be a journalist and The Daily Northwestern seemed like the best way to do that.

But after three years of working here, I didn’t realize how much The Daily would prepare me for real life — and how much it couldn’t.

As I worked my way from opinion editor to managing to editor in chief, creating a new position from scratch along the way, I built a family, just as many of my peers did. And in between the long nights spent editing and joking around, late snack runs and countless episodes of monologuing in front of the edit board was a growing confidence in our newspaper.

People seemed to be noticing that The Daily was trying to cover more perspectives than before (though we still made mistakes along the way, aiming to do better each time). Students and residents were more represented than ever in our reporting, even after a major pandemic shifted our entire mode of operation.

But no matter my pride in the work we were doing, the world made it known I was different from my peers.

Whether it was pitching stories, handling conflicts with managers or using community ties to report, I learned to do things on my own terms. Medill did not consider teaching marginalized students how to navigate being “the only one” a high priority — especially considering I was “the only one” in a couple journalism classes.

Beyond showing me how to report, write, edit and communicate, The Daily made me understand a major life lesson many reporters of color have had to learn: how to survive and still be yourself. This journey wasn’t easy.

Within the newsroom, even as I rose in positions, I started to not love the paper anymore. Though we all worked similar hours, I felt that much more exhausted from my extra nightly tasks. I edited from not just my point of view, but from everyone and their mothers’ perspectives too. I prepared presentations on covering communities people on our staff don’t belong to. I gave feedback on pieces that would be rejected when it came from me, but not from my male colleagues.

At one point, I stopped wanting to come into the office. It wasn’t because I hated my fellow staffers, but rather the unspoken pressure to be the perfect editor. I had fun just like everyone else, but there were other factors that specifically held me back — particularly the constant stream of constructive and not-so-constructive online feedback I received that no other White staffer did. Above anything, I wanted to push myself to be the Best Journalist and the Best Coworker, who broke barriers and records and always said the right thing and made the newsroom a fun place.

And it was exhausting. I loved being editor in chief, but it was hard to balance my own humanity with it. Being in the seat to make decisions for the historic campus newspaper, with its equally historic numbers of mess-ups, is a little bit harder when you look less like your staff and more like the people The Daily used to wrong.

I’ve seen the outside world — it still has a long way to go to match the inclusivity a lot of our staffers have trained for years to cultivate. That makes me confident in The Daily and its future, but scared to enter the professional world, where there’s a lot more inequality than there ever was when I worked in the newsroom.

But during my senior year, I read an Audre Lorde quote that changed my life. “When we speak, we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent, we are still afraid, so it is better to speak,” she wrote.

I’ve never been a silent person — my friends and family know I can ramble about pretty much anything for days — but I didn’t know how much weight my words could actually hold.

There’s a lot to be proud of after my time here. I’ve helped change a newsroom’s culture, and have coached dozens of college students on diversity best practices from across the country and world.

All I did was speak the truth, even when it was hard to hear.

I entered The Daily to learn how to be a better reporter, but I left with a new sense of purpose. To paraphrase Lorde again, my silence will not protect me but speaking out will. And I learned it all on the third floor of Norris.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @mar1ssamart1nez