For the first time, women hold the highest editorial positions at all eight Ivy League papers.
The path to leadership, and the development of a love for journalism, began well before these women arrived on their respective college campuses. Hadriana Lowenkron and Sarah Braka, editors-in-chief of The Daily Pennsylvanian and the Columbia Daily Spectator, respectively, actually began this journey together.
“I was the co-editor-in-chief of my high school paper with Sarah Braka,” Lowenkron said. “We had a great time and I was very excited to join The Daily Pennsylvanian, which I did in my freshmen fall.”
“It was the highlight of my senior year of high school,” Braka added. “So when I got into Columbia, I started reading Spec articles, and I knew immediately that I wanted to join even before I stepped foot on campus.”
Amanda Su, president of The Harvard Crimson, can also credit her high school days with her journalistic start. She said her journalism teacher Rachel Decker, in particular, fostered this growing interest.
“She really was the person who continued to encourage me and support me through all of my journalistic endeavors and is the reason why I’m here today,” Su commented.
Even with a common background in newspaper work prior to entering college, few of the current EICs imagined that they would rise so high up in the ranks when they first joined their respective college newspapers. Some started as news reporters, others as opinion columnists, and some as copy editors. While their specialities may have originated in different fields, there was one common thread that influenced these women’s decision to run for EIC: fostering diversity in their papers.
Kayla Guo of The Brown Daily Herald had served on her paper’s diversity committee before becoming EIC.
“How do we diversify both our coverage and the makeup of our staff?” she asked. “I wanted to make sure that [goal] was really prioritized. I thought that this role especially would help me be able to do that.”
Lowenkron also explained how she is prioritizing diversity and inclusion as EIC.
“I’m maintaining relationships with my sources and making sure that I’m not just extracting things from the communities in which I report — I’m building these relationships and especially relationships with communities of color,” she said.
Rachel Pakianathan, former EIC of The Dartmouth, agreed that her goals for inclusion and diversity in the paper could best be accomplished at the top.
“I published pieces that I found really meaningful and impactful and wanted to keep doing that but shape it from higher up, where I had the power to make creative decisions and shape the direction of the paper,” she said.
The good, the bad, and lessons learned
The position of EIC may come with many managerial and administrative responsibilities, but what drove Maryam Zafar of Cornell’s The Daily Sun during her tenure was the opportunity to work with and share the stories of others in her community. Her term as EIC ended two weeks ago; her successor is Kathryn Stamm.
“I get to support good stories [that] make it from someone’s brain onto a webpage and onto someone’s phone and into someone else’s brain… [I] like seeing people grow a lot and change,” Zafar stated.
Guo agreed, noting that the best part of the job is interacting with and amplifying the voices of different types of people.
“I just love being able to get to know, advise, talk to, and become friends with so many more people,” she explained. “I get to read almost all the stories that are coming in before we publish them and I think that [has] been so amazing to see.”
Even still, their work is not always fun, easy, or successful.
“There are a lot of different dynamics to balance,” expressed Emma Treadway ’22 of The Daily Princetonian.
“I have to maintain a relation with these different groups: the Board of Trustees, our readers, the staffers. They all have different ideas of what the ‘Prince’ should be doing — it can be difficult because I want everyone to be heard,” she added.
For Su, reporting to so many different bodies is a balancing act.
“Being President can be somewhat isolating, especially because I’m no longer attached to a single board,” she said. “I’m sort of a member of every board but also at the same time a member of none of them.”
Zafar shared that she sometimes ends the day feeling like she could have done more in her role — especially as she nears the end of her tenure.
“I don’t think I’ve done enough to feel satisfied … everyday, I see what went wrong … all of the edits I didn’t make or the story that [I] wasn’t able to tell,” she said.
High stakes and standards: Being a female leader
As female leaders in journalism, many stated that they feel accountable to responsibilities and priorities uniquely personal to their identities. Treadway expressed her desires to elevate the voices of marginalized groups.
“I have been much more conscious of making sure that female voices are heard and that women feel that it’s okay to take up space — to vehemently and courageously take up space … since I come from a background where I haven’t always been the one to speak up,” she said.
“I feel a responsibility to make sure that we are covering our communities of color thoughtfully, properly, and accurately,” added Lowenkron. “We need to make sure our coverage is representative of the Penn community.”
Despite this being the first year that all eight papers are led by women simultaneously, many of the editors expressed that their paper’s staff in recent years has leaned heavily female and there is often no explicit gender discrimination in their paper’s community.
“I don’t think I’ve experienced a microaggression or felt that I was talked to a certain way because I was a woman,” Braka said. “I’m very fortunate in that regard.”
“I think we have always had a lot of strong female representation among our editors and I’m glad to see that continue,” said Pakianathan.
Some editors did note the presence of racial dynamics. Lowenkron, whose editorial board is mostly women, spoke to her experience specifically as a woman of color.
“When you are a minority there’s always the feeling, you know, ‘do I belong here?’” she said.
“That honestly might not have anything to do with the reality of how you are being treated. So I don’t feel like I’m treated any differently, but there is always, kind of in the back of my head, this second guessing of myself,” she said. “I think that’s just something that I will always experience.”
Priorities for the future: diversity, transparency and inclusion
No two women had the same visions for the future of their papers, but they all described clear principles that guide them.
According to Guo, there often exists “tension between campus groups and our paper.” Mending these relationships is one of her priorities going forward.
Treadway also cited further integration into the campus community as a way forward; for her, that takes the form of ensuring that the paper covers a diverse range of experiences. She described her desire to think “very intentionally about our coverage, whose voices we’re choosing to raise, which communities we’re choosing to cover.”
“When we have more diverse voices on our staff, we’re going to have a more diverse range of stories and we’re going to have a better coverage of the campus community,” Treadway continued.
With this diversity in campus coverage comes a need for increased transparency, noted Lowenkron.
“We’re trying to promote transparency between students and the administration, as well as hold institutions accountable for their policies,” Lowenkron said. “It’s all about bringing marginalized groups to the paper … and promoting the lived experiences of different groups of people.”
The need for transparency is internal, too. Zafar hopes that reporters will reckon with the potential biases implicit in journalism and gain a sense of multipartiality rather than objectivity. Braka agreed that much of the work will take place within the paper.
“We say in our mission statement that of equal importance to the work we do is the development of our staff, and I think that’s something that can be easily overlooked. So one of my main goals for this year is just to build a staff culture that is positive and is welcoming,” said Braka.
For Zafar, compensating writers is crucial to making the newsroom more equitable in the long run. Last fall, The Daily Sun launched the “Sun for All Scholarship Fund,” to award students from underrepresented groups and take a step towards increasing diversity among those working in media.
“Compensation for student writers is basically the hill I’m going to die on,” she said.
“Beyond this symbol”: Reflecting on a historic milestone
When ascending to a position of leadership, there is a common expression one might hear: “It’s lonely at the top.” For these women, the truth of leadership could not be more different.
With this year being the first to have an all-female cohort of editorial leadership, the women voiced their appreciation of the solidarity this shared milestone afforded them, and expressed hope that it might lead to more diverse leadership in the future.
“The perspective of a woman at the helm can bring a very different flavor and set of priorities to the table,” Treadway said.
Personally as well as professionally, Su expressed how the other women have been a source of comfort for her.
“It is this really strong community of women and strong support system,” said Su. “It’s just been really wonderful to be able to have this group of people that I can go to with questions,” she added.
Still, Lowenkron emphasized that this is just a stepping stone for future progress.
“I just want to make sure that there is more beyond this symbol ‘all-women editors’ and that we are able to, as women with our experience, help our internal structure so that years from now this is not even seen as an accomplishment,” explained Lowenkron.
“This is indicative of a larger shift of women wanting to go into journalism and that’s really important. Just like we want to diversify our newsroom, newsrooms across the nation need to be diversified,” noted Braka.
Nonetheless, everyone interviewed was excited by the progress that this milestone marks.
“I think progress is progress and [we should] celebrate the little victories,” said Zafar. Guo expressed a similar excitement, as well as a hope for the future.
“I think it’s absolutely amazing and I’m hopeful that this begins to translate more into the professional journalism world as well,” she said.
Editor-in-Chief and president of the Yale Daily News Mackenzie Hawkins did not respond to request for comment by the time of publication.