After working as a tour guide for all eight of my semesters here at Penn, I’ve told the following story about my start at The Daily Pennsylvanian dozens, if not hundreds of times. It only feels right to tell it one last time.
It begins with me — a wide-eyed first year from the Midwest completely confused by what “jawn” meant — arriving on Penn’s campus unsure of what exactly I wanted to do or how I would make friends. So I joined a number of clubs, the DP chief among them, and I was thrilled to receive my first assignment as a news reporter: a three-day, University-wide conference with a packed schedule and dozens of speakers.
I was a little nervous to say the least, but I completed interviews, attended as many of the events as I could, and wrote a shaky draft before hiking to the DP’s office to review the article with a news editor who’d interned at Politico the summer before and would go on to serve as the DP’s editor-in-chief. Not imposing at all.
But the DP team welcomed me with open arms, helped rework my article, and let me watch the ins and outs of a production night. I was fascinated by all of it and couldn’t wait to get more involved.
While walking to class the next morning, I picked up a copy of the DP — like everyone should! — and was shocked when I saw my story on the front page. On my Kite & Key tours, I’ve ended this story for many years by saying that this was the moment I felt as if I had made it at Penn. Little did I know, there was so much more than front page bylines or story clicks on the website to really make it at the DP, at Penn, or anywhere, for that matter.
When I look back at my four years at the DP, there are a number of things I’ve been proud of — becoming editor-in-chief, helping to lead coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic for two years, and overhauling our daily newsletter to create a more personal feel. But reflecting on my time at the DP, it’s none of these “accomplishments” that I remember the most — it’s the people I’ve met and forged relationships with that I’ll carry with me more than anything else.
Working for the paper allowed me to meet a number of University administrators as sources, namely within Wellness at Penn. During the early stages of the pandemic, my weekly online meetings with this small group leading Penn’s COVID-19 response were one of the few interactions with non-DP members I had each week. In fall 2020, I would walk to the COVID-19 testing site with excitement, because I knew I would see a familiar face in person. These relationships provided certainty and structure in a time when there was little of either in the world.
These types of source relationships in journalism can often feel transactional, but I’ve always worked hard to push against this notion, both for myself and with the DP team as a whole. Prioritizing trust and empathy in these relationships, while maintaining clear boundaries of professionalism, improves not just the quality of the output, but creates real connection too. I’m incredibly grateful to those sources who have treated me and the DP team with kindness and understanding when we’ve made mistakes and have subsequently worked with us to be our best. I hope this continues for years to come.
Internal to the DP, it is again the relationships that have meant so much to me. Weeks into the spring semester of my first year at Penn, the world was upended by the pandemic. While most other clubs and organizations shut down for the semester, the DP kept churning out important stories for the University community to stay informed during a time of complete unknowns. Over spring, summer, and fall 2020, I became increasingly involved with the paper, working with a small team of peers who quickly became some of my closest friends. Working for the DP provided me with connection in a time when I needed it most.
Eventually, we returned to the DP’s office for in-person production nights and editing sessions, just like I’d seen years prior when I wrote my first story. This time, however, it was me and the entire production night team welcoming these new members, in hopes that they would one day do the same. My time at the DP wouldn’t have been the same without these people: Sophie, Allyson, and our entire intrepid copy department, without whom none of what the DP accomplishes would be possible; Jesse, Anna, and our photo team that brought the content to life; Tyler and our passionate design team; Emi, Tori, Delaney, and our relentless news department; Matt, Esther, Eashwar, and all of DPOSTM, who welcomed me with open arms; Emily, Ale, Pia, and the executive board, who worked tirelessly to make the DP better; and lastly, the incredible newsletter anchors — Komal, Jared, Saya, Imran, Sejin, and Eva — who believed in a crazy idea and helped me see it through to fruition. It’s the relationships with this team of people that I’ll carry with me long after my time at Penn.
So, with all of that being said, I want to edit the way I’ve told the story of my first DP article so many times as a tour guide:
Picking up the print copy of the DP back in fall 2019 and seeing my article on the front page was far from making it at Penn. As much as it may feel like it’s about status or achievement, making it is really about the people you’ve met along the way and the impact you’ve had on them. By working at the DP, I’ve met and built relationships with some of the most hard-working, thoughtful, and empathetic members of the Penn community. It’s these people that have helped shape the person — the teammate, the editor, the friend — that I am today.
JONAH CHARLTON is a College senior studying communication and data science from Evanston, Ill. He was The Daily Pennsylvanian’s editor-in-chief on the 138th Board. Previously, he helped lead the DP’s coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and served as sports photo editor and a beat reporter. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.