Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Misdemeanor charges dropped against NU faculty for activity during pro-Palestinian encampment
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Siemons: On the trials and triumphs of covering City Council as a student

When I first volunteered to cover City Council my sophomore year, I had no idea what to expect. 

I’d never attended a city meeting, let alone covered one as a student journalist. I remember walking to Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center and feeling a rush of nerves. The historic building is beautiful, but intimidating. Looking at the brick exterior and crown molding, I felt out of place in my sneakers and jeans. 

I had a few preconceived notions about how the meeting would go. I expected heavy jargon and deep discussions about topics I knew little about. I didn’t realize just how critical these meetings are to city news. 

I also didn’t expect that covering City Council, my “night job,” would not only define my experience at The Daily, but also my journalism education at Northwestern. 

After years of sitting at the press table, furiously typing notes on my computer to keep up with the conversation, I’ve learned that student journalism equips you with the power to teach yourself almost anything. While we may be young and new to the job, we can use our relative inexperience to our advantage by asking questions, doing our research and meeting people where they are. 

Hours of listening to the mayor, council members and community discuss a myriad of topics have taught me so much about Evanston. I’ve learned everything from how parking fees work to how the city has allocated COVID-19 relief funding to what programs are available at the Robert Crown Community Center. Even the smallest details from these meetings matter. When community members can’t make these Monday night meetings, it’s important to have eyes and ears in the room. 

To cover these meetings well, I had to do my own homework. When it was time in fall 2021 for the City Council to craft, analyze, and debate the proposed city budget, I developed a new routine. 

Each afternoon I would click onto the city’s website and do what every city reporter does: stalk. I digested page after page of charts stuffed with numbers and political jargon. I took endless notes in bad handwriting, filling my computer, scrap pieces of paper and even my class notebooks with thoughts and questions. The more time I spent with this ever-changing document, the more knowledge I gained. 

I would lie if I said there weren’t times where I wanted to give up. When my financial knowledge or ability to decipher the inner workings of a particular fund were limited, I got frustrated. How could I be the watchdog journalist I dreamed of being if I felt so confused by the budgets’ dozens and dozens of pages? 

I learned that even though I could teach myself the basics of the budget at a desk in the back of The Daily’s newsroom, I couldn’t do the job alone. I leaned on my thoughtful editors and fellow city reporters. I talked with my Evanston neighbors before and after meetings about the programs and investments they hoped to see. I emailed, called and interviewed council members for their comments. Eventually, our team at The Daily successfully covered the budget from proposal to passage. 

It turned out I was more capable of boiling down jargon-filled conversations into accessible reporting than I had thought. To my fellow student journalists, I urge you to appreciate this power and never let yourself or others underestimate you. But, also, know that journalism takes a village — and building relationships with the community members at the forefront of local efforts and governments is essential. 

Ultimately, covering even tedious elements of City Council left me with invaluable knowledge about Evanston, local politics and how to report well. When I got the opportunity at Medill on the Hill to report on congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., my experience came in handy. I was ready to listen intently, report quickly and ask politicians questions. At Northwestern I’ve learned that, in and out of journalism, the ability to teach yourself new skills builds confidence and resilience. 

I remain immeasurably grateful for The Daily editors and reporters who made covering City Council communal, informative, and enjoyable. I’m also thankful to the Evanston residents who read this newspaper. As a college student, it can sometimes be difficult to get involved in the local community off campus. Journalism has given me the opportunity to meet others that call Evanston home, and for that I’m so grateful. 

Email: [email protected] 

X: @JorjaSiemons

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