Courtesy of Claire Hao.

Position(s): 2021 Editor-in-Chief, 2020 Senior News Editor

Section(s): Leadership, News

Semesters at The Daily: 7

Ask me about its products, its processes, its problems, and I could talk to you for hours, days, weeks. Ask me about my relationship to The Michigan Daily, and I have no idea where to begin.

To me, thinking about The Daily — which is most of the time — stirs up an overwhelming mix of contradictory emotions. No place has given me more; no place has taken more from me. Some days I hate The Daily, but at the end of every day I love The Daily far too much. 

I’ll admit, I usually don’t feel truly comfortable here. Partly because this organization still has a ways to go in becoming more accessible and inclusive. Mostly because this place always, always pushed me to confront my weaknesses and really grow.

I joined The Daily as soon as I got to campus simply because I like to write, and truthfully, I couldn’t tell you what the University of Michigan is like without it. Fresh off the heels of a long-term abusive relationship, I came to college feeling voiceless. Not trusting what I believed to be important or even true, I joined the News section, where it seemed like I could write about anything and everything except myself. 

Now, more than anything, I am grateful that working with the awesome voice of The Daily has helped me find and be confident in my own. I’ve realized being a journalist and a leader doesn’t mean discounting what I know to be true through personal experience but taking the time to listen before filling in the blanks, doesn’t mean neglecting my convictions but rather a duty to be consistent in them. Actually, I could write pages upon pages on the lessons I’ve learned here, many the hard way, so I won’t even try to list them all. 

Through the turbulence of being in college during a global pandemic, The Daily has been my constant, keeping me grounded with a sense of purpose. It’s where I’ve found community, where I’ve always turned to process the chaos of the world beyond. Having no journalism experience before freshman year, it’s because of The Daily that I’ve found what I feel to be my calling. Every day this year, I got to talk to people from different backgrounds, keep my community informed, make impactful decisions, manage a business of 450 people, change campus conversations and even campus itself. There aren’t many other roles where a 21-year-old can do the same. 

But.

I frequently find myself in awe of the power and responsibility I’ve had as Editor-in-Chief and will never not cherish that this privilege was mine for a year, so much so it feels ungrateful to talk about the toll the role took on me and especially to admit I’m relieved to be done with it soon. At the same time, I still don’t quite know how to explain that I was stretched so thin with so much pressure placed on me I often felt like I just might break. And I did, gradually and subtly, a couple times even completely. 

In the last few decades, this newsroom has tripled, if not quadrupled in size; doubled in the number of sections; taken on increased responsibility on local matters; replaced the University’s now-gone journalism school as the de facto one; and adapted to the 24/7 demands of digital while maintaining the obligations of a print publication. Yet many of its structures, hierarchies and traditions have stayed the same. All that time and we’ve added just one more leader — for a total of three — to the top. I’m proud to leave The Daily a better place than I found it, but bitter it came at such detriment to my physical and mental health, at such cost to my personal relationships. 

Then there’s the maybe inevitable reality that as presumably the first woman of color Editor-in-Chief of this organization, I’ve experienced a fair amount of racism and sexism, at times so casually harmful I didn’t allow myself to recognize it as such. As the leader, how do I best protect others from this, when sometimes I can’t even command enough respect to protect myself? It’s questions like this that kept me up at night and questions like this that I’m still struggling to answer. 

Sometimes, when I’ve given every last ounce I’ve got and it still doesn’t feel enough, I make myself consider what is different. The shift from print-first to digitally-focused, complete with a new website, strong social media presence and four thriving newsletters, while also rebuilding the print layout team essentially from scratch. The creation of Culture, Training and Inclusion so there are more than three people who support the needs and operations of the entire organization, strengthening our recruitment, training, conflict resolution and more. The Daily’s break from (and the ultimate disbandment of) Order of Angell and other secret societies on campus. The long overdue collaboration between the Editorial and Business sides of The Daily, while still remaining separate entities. The even longer overdue conversations and initiatives on burnout, pay, journalistic sensitivity and diversity, equity and inclusion. The much-needed change in attitude that we can — and should — dare to diverge from what we’ve always done. 

I am and we are by no means perfect, and there is so much more work to do. But at the end of this year, at the end of these three-and-a-half years, I’m ultimately proud and grateful to have been among so many people who care and so many people who gave each other so much.

Speaking of people, there’s a long list of them I need to thank: 

2018 to 2020 Editors-in-Chief, everything I accomplished this year I did so by building upon your foundations. Alexa, I admired you from afar when I first walked into the newsroom in 2018 and never could’ve guessed how much recognition and support you’d give me over the years. Maya, you helped me solidify that The Daily is where I want to be and journalism is what I want to do. Lizzy, you are the leader I’ve tried to be this entire year. 

2020 Managing and Senior News Editors, my most treasured Daily memory will forever be the way we all mobilized to write about classes moving online that fateful day and spent hours at NYPD processing what was to come. We covered news in 2020 — incredible! Leah, you are so sharp in both humor and intelligence, and though I’m no longer your high school freshman chemistry lab partner, I will never get over being both terrified and reverent of you. Sayali, how you were MNE, pre-med and still so kind is beyond me. Emma, you always balanced the seriousness of our jobs and the need to lighten up with ease. Ben, you could get anyone from along the political spectrum to talk to you. 

Alex, Barbara and Liat, from news reporters to SNeds to our leadership roles this year, when I think about who I’ve been at The Daily with since day one, it’s the three of you. Alex, you’ve been at the receiving end of so many of my texts, from Daily stress to commiserating over this decision we’ve made to become journalists to what’s going on in our personal lives. It heartens me going into the post-college world to know we’ll be kicking ass together. Barbara, even through (figuratively) “crying, screaming and throwing up,” we always get shit done and have a good time doing it. Through all the absurdity, I admire how you stay real and grounded. Liat, you are so sweet and so good at everything you do, unless it’s tagging a regent instead of the U.S. ambassador to Finland on Twitter. And no, we probably won’t stop talking about it.

Calder, amid it all, thank you for always being my friend first. The protest stories we wrote together remain my favorites, in large part because I did them with you. Jacob, since my very first college lecture, our friendship has always empowered me to be my best self. Thank you for being my best friend outside of The Daily … who also happens to be in The Daily. Madison, from walking home from class together to texting about Taylor Swift, I wish we became friends before this semester. We’ll edit (or not) at Skeeps sometime soon. Sammy, when Rachel called me about an emergency on North Campus my freshman year, little could I have known it would be you not knowing how to tweet. You are a Renaissance man if I’ve ever met one, and for you I’ll make just one taro-ble pun. 

Jasmin, your dedication and kindness will serve you well. As you lead this place, remember that sometimes it’s counterproductive to care too much and that sometimes it’s necessary to block out all the noise. You remind me of myself, and I’m excited to see how you and The Daily grow next year. If you need anything, I will do what I can to be there for you — Paige and Aya, same goes for both of you.

Dannah and Noor, our work together in the Access and Inclusion Committee gave me fulfillment and purpose. Both of you have such hearts and minds for good, and I’m grateful to have started demographic surveys and journalistic sensitivity trainings with this team. 

Verity, Elise, Julianna, Zoe and Lizzie, you five have me convinced the best people at The Daily are found in Arts. I aspire to write like all of you. Verity, thank you for basically being my big sister. 

Jeff, running into you at the Union never fails to make my day, even more so each time you remind me that staff like you read The Daily. Thank you for the free food, and more importantly, for always taking an interest in what I have to say. 

Mr. Gibbons, when I came to visit during Spring Break of my freshman year, you helped me admit journalism is what I want to do, and you dared me to take the risk, if not now then never. Professor Jones, just when I was ready to quit my summer internship search, you turned my dream of working for a professional newspaper into reality. I have you to thank for all the doors that have opened since.

James, Lisa, Kim and the Board of Student Publications, thank you for always having the best interests of the students at The Daily in mind and in action. Joan, thank you for always so quickly okaying articles I send to you for legal issues. You telling me I should go to law school a few weeks ago did wonders for my ego. 

To the other lawyers I had to talk to, you really tried to test me. Good thing I studied up on libel and copyright law. 

Parth and Naitian, you two are some of the most capable and reliable people I know — The Daily owes its digital face and backbone to you. Haley and Asha, thank you for your online savvy, your dedication in building up the newsletters and your patience with me and Jack’s many texts. Andie, you are so cool. And passionate, committed, kind. Shannon, you are way more capable than I was as a sophomore, so I can only imagine how accomplished you will be your senior year. 

Sarah, in just one year, you’ve changed The Daily for the better more than most people do in four. You and Alex graciously took work off my overflowing plate, built infrastructure from the ground up and made CTI the robust section it is now. Thank you for your constant support, your measured advice, your skilled mediation and so much more. 

Gabrijela and Anamika, out of everyone at The Daily, you two have challenged me to grow and reflect the most, and I’m deeply appreciative of that. Anamika, our texts winter semester always made remote production a little more rewarding, and this semester, I have felt genuinely connected with you in many of our conversations. I can’t wait to see all that you make of your artistry and passion. Gabrijela, you taught me by example to protect my energy, to wait until I can give matters their due attention and to be direct in my intentions. Your work at The Daily has been revolutionary, and I’m excited to see how you change the world.

All of the 2021 Managing Editors, you did your jobs for a whole semester remotely, after nine months of already being virtual, and you did them so well. Each of you took it upon yourself to make sure the community and passion in your sections persisted even through Zoom, and I have all of you to thank for The Daily not only making it but thriving into its 131st year. 

Allen, we first started talking after you messaged me out of the blue to say you liked a piece I wrote, and you’ve empowered me to take pride in my work ever since. Thank you for loving me and caring for me when The Daily sent me to some of my lowest lows, for listening to me talk about The Daily on and on, for understanding when The Daily took me away from you, for always reminding me to consider myself in the situations that I face. Kat, I came home crying about The Daily to you too many times to count, and you always found either a way to cheer me up or the time to listen. Soon, instead of girlboss, we will girlrest. To all my other friends outside The Daily, please hang out with me next semester. I promise to not check my phone for breaking news and to talk about The Daily maybe not at all.

Mom and Dad, thank you for always supporting me and wanting the best for me, even when I do things that make you uneasy such as spending most of my time at The Daily or trying to be a journalist. Every time you share one of my stories with your friends or call me “Chief Editor,” I feel proud to have made you proud. Kaitlyn, thank you for being my biggest hypewoman and, at the same time, my most honest and thoughtful critic. You are one of the most talented writers I know. 爷爷奶奶, 谢谢您们所有的支持和爱。您们是我的灵感, 而且我希望让您们感到骄傲。

Tara, can you believe we made so much progress beyond the Edit-Business rift by simply being friends? Not that it was hard, because it’s easy to be friends with you. Now that we’re retired, we could write an encyclopedia of everything we know about The Daily that’d be irrelevant to anyone outside of it — or we could go to Rick’s instead. Rori, you make me smile, plain and simple. Every text I get from you, full of emojis. The too few in-person interactions we’ve had. Let’s get coffee again. 

Kathy, thank you for being the first adult who empowered me to be your equal. I came into this year set out to do a lot, and you walked me through every step of it with your ever-steady advice and support. As I go into the professional world, I will try to be as deliberate as you always are in emulating you as a colleague, mentor and friend. 

To my beloved Big Three, I could hit the word limit (that I’m already greatly disrespecting) just by talking about how much I appreciate the two of you. This year, the three of us have always had each others’ backs, and now until forever, you can count on me to have both of yours. Jack, I’m sitting next to you writing this, eating Chipotle for dinner because you did too. Despite our differing talents, backgrounds and ambitions, we’ve always worked seamlessly in lockstep as a team. You never let us forget The Daily is about people, those who make up our newsroom and those a part of the audience that we serve. One of the things I’ll miss most about The Daily is getting to be around your eye for innovation and your decisive confidence five nights a week. Brittany, how do I begin to express my gratitude for the way we’ve cared for each other through our impossible jobs this year? To hell and back — that’s where I’ve gone with you, and I don’t think I could’ve done it with anyone else. So much of the work we did was tedious and ridiculous  — we, especially you, laid out pages for far too many hours each week — and yet, damn our sense of duty, damn our tendency for perfectionism, we did it anyway. Next semester, we will drink tea and talk for hours, we will read all the books piling up in our homes, we will go to bars, we will have the time of our lives.

To anyone I’ve interviewed, thank you for sharing your time, ideas and experiences with me. Our conversations were almost always deeply humbling and thought-provoking. I hope I did your stories justice. 

To everyone at The Daily, most of you will never know how your work has inspired me, in ways big and small. For all of the expectations we and others place on ourselves to be a professional newspaper, we are not — we are better. We do this work for fun. We publish content you’d never find anywhere else, reflecting our incomplete passions, visions, thoughts and fears, telling stories that’d otherwise go unheard. We try, we fail, we try again. We swear, because sometimes it fucking sucks

It doesn’t make sense to anyone except us. And that’s why I’ll never stop trying to explain — for hours, days, weeks and years — what it meant to be a part of this place with all of you.

This article has been updated since publication to add a note to the author’s grandparents and to make reference to the print layout team.