Spoto: Try something different

Maia Spoto, Senior Staffer

When I think about The Daily, my first memory isn’t of chasing down city politicians on election night. Or of combing through government documents to edit investigations line by line. 

It’s of former editor-in-chief Jacob Fulton’s palms sizzling as he bleached my hair white with his bare hands. A reckless choice, maybe, but it was my last night as City Editor, and I needed the catharsis. It was a more-than-full-time job, and I was tired. 

Our city desk — just one of several desks churning out daily content — is effectively a metro paper for a city of 80,000. We have the resources and staff to cover hundreds of stories each quarter. We see our reporting influence local policy and help people become more civically engaged

At the same time, because we report on our neighbors and classmates, we have a front-row view of how our journalism falls short and harms people. On occasion, national news publications share scathing editorials that dissect how we’ve dropped the ball. More often, and more painfully, we hear it from those close to us. 

That’s intense responsibility to bear. It makes you want to change things. Sometimes you only have the energy or will to alter parts of yourself, like the night Jacob fried my hair and I forgot to bring the gloves.

But as student journalists who are more or less self-governed, we’re in a unique position to experiment. I’d argue we have a responsibility to push the limits of what journalism can do for audiences. And although we’ve failed over and over, I’ve also seen a real transformation in how we engage with community members over the last four years. 

I’ve worked alongside countless Daily staffers as we’ve created online forums to help neighbors navigate the confusion of booking COVID-19 vaccines. We’ve hosted listening sessions to understand what information people need to know, and how they want to receive it. We’ve completely revamped our newsletter and website to make both more comprehensive. We’ve trained our reporters to be more transparent with sources and more thoughtful about how they frame coverage. I would list names, but there are too many people to thank, because these kinds of initiatives require an entire newsroom’s support.

To the journalists at The Daily who keep up this work, I offer the words of Darryl Holliday, who co-founded City Bureau in Chicago: “The journalists we need today are not heroic observers of crisis — they are conveners, facilitators, organizers, educators, on-demand investigators, and community builders. Most of all, they strengthen the systems that make communities resilient.” 

Go serve your neighbors and classmates, and each other. Try to build a different, better kind of journalism. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @maia_spoto