Throughout my years at Penn, conversations with non-Penn students usually followed a familiar formula. When talking about my interests, I would express my desire to enter the field of journalism. The person, usually a well-meaning adult, would understandably ask if I was majoring in journalism.
“No,” I would reply. “Penn doesn’t actually have a journalism major.”
Their face would contort in confusion. “It’s OK,” I’d respond with a knowing smile. “The Daily Pennsylvanian is my journalism major.”
For some time, I recall that answer serving as a sort of crutch — a way to justify my existence at a school that didn’t have an entire academic apparatus dedicated to the craft of journalism. But now, I can look back with supreme confidence and acknowledge that it was true. Although my bachelor's degree in political science will claim otherwise, the DP was my major, minor, and electives at Penn all rolled into one. And I would not have had it any other way.
In the proud tradition of following advice from DP seniors, I have some unsolicited advice for anyone reading this column: Join your college paper! If you’re reading this and think it’s too late — think again (OK, maybe not if you’re a graduating senior or one of my family members). But seriously — it was the best decision of my college career.
From a general assignments reporter who entered the office once every two weeks, to a beat reporter who showed up twice a week for brutal, but rewarding, editing sessions, to a News editor who was there daily with my Blue Room family, to my tenure as DP editor-in-chief when 4015 Walnut became my second home — all of it was a wild ride that made me who I am today.
The experience was intoxicating. There is something indescribable about being in a windowless office for hours, subsisting only off scarfed-down pizza and lukewarm water, only to send the paper to the printer at 2 a.m. There is something beautiful about bringing together the paper’s best minds around a computer for print ranking and to land upon the perfect headline and an attention-grabbing visual for the front page.
At a college paper, and at the DP in particular, you can possess the most influence of anyone your age. You can set the school’s agenda. Your work will be seen by tens of thousands. You can hold an administration accountable. And you will make a family in the process.
We had a lot of fun at this place. But we also made tough decisions in trying circumstances. We covered Donald Trump through the frame of local news to the point where “1968 Wharton graduate” will forever be seared into my mind. We reported when the tragedies of suicide hit our campus. I interviewed congresspeople and former national security advisers. We dug deep into Penn’s problematic history with medical experimentation on disenfranchised individuals. And we produced content when the world stopped, and the pandemic shifted our business model completely.
Everyone should be a part of an experience like this. There is a place for everyone at the DP, as is the case for most student papers across the country. Take the leap of faith — you won’t regret it.
I feel compelled to offer my advice in this column because I’ve been fortunate enough to benefit from some priceless nuggets of wisdom from fellow journalists before I had ever set foot in University City. When taking my first journalism elective my sophomore year of high school, reporter Nathan Guttman of Moment Magazine urged the class not to study journalism in college. The best practice, he said, was to work in the field as a reporter, not in a classroom.
The next piece of advice came from Stefan Fatsis, a legendary DP alum. When I worked under him the summer before my first year at Penn, he extolled the virtues of the DP to me. Stefan was an editor in the glory days of the 1980s and he even took a semester off school to fully dedicate himself to his newspaper duties. This was one step in his journey he warned me not to replicate.
Once at the DP, I received priceless morsels from my higher-ups. I remember former executive editor Dan Spinelli taking the time out of his day to message me, a lowly GA reporter, feedback on my article during my first real-time shift in November 2017.
I remember a spring 2018 phone call with former news editor Sarah Fortinsky that sold me on being a summer news editor, which paved my way to eventually serve as the DP’s editor-in-chief. That same semester, former DP President David Akst convinced me to accept a position at The Philadelphia Inquirer through the Neiman Scholarship, even though it wasn’t in my preferred city. It ended up being one of the best internships I ever did.
Thank you to Kelly Heinzerling, who edited my beat stories and refined my reporting to great ends. Thank you to Maddie Ngo, Gio Paz, Manlu Liu, and Deena Elul, whose company in the Blue Room kept me going. Thank you to Sarah, whose tenacious drive for perfection drove me to be my best. Thank you to Julie Coleman, Conor Murray, and Ashley Ahn, who showed that a three-person Blue Room could do it all. Thanks to Maria Murad and the Mariarmy for injecting levity into a tough work environment. Thank you to Danny Chiarodit, Michael Landau, and Will DiGrande, who welcomed a non-DPOSTMite into the sports room. And thank you to Georgia Ray, for making my term as editor-in-chief a little extra special and showing that Design and News made a great combination.
MAX COHEN is a graduating College senior studying political science from Chevy Chase, Md. He was The Daily Pennsylvanian’s editor-in-chief on the 136th Board of Editors and Managers and previously served as a News editor and politics beat reporter.