Joanna Mann

(Courtesy of Joanna Mann)

Ledes are always the hardest part of a story to write. But I know I have to start with the who, what, when, where, why, how and what’s next. (Thanks to professors Brent and Nicole for that last one!)

So, let’s give it a try. I joined the Daily Emerald in December 2018 because I had no idea what I wanted to do and thought the paper looked cool in the newsstands. Three years later, I’ve fallen in love with writing and think every thought in AP style.

My first all-staff meeting at the Emerald was also the newsroom Christmas party; at least 50 people were crammed into a space meant for 10, tossing gifts back and forth and laughing at nerdy inside jokes. I had no idea what was going on, but I felt oddly at peace in that chaotic room full of strangers.

I was short on reporting experience, but not on opinions — so that was the first desk I joined. My first piece on the opinion desk was called “The pitfalls of new year’s resolutions,” and to this day I have never been so excited to see one of my stories come out. I remember setting my alarm for 6 a.m. so I could see it right when it published on the site. 

Some of my favorite pieces I wrote for the Emerald were written on the opinion desk. I wrote about the pink tax, a Gilette commercial, outdated sex ed programs and the negative impacts of sorority recruitment. Writing for the opinion desk taught me to keep my eyes and ears open to whatever students were talking about, and then to press them on why they thought what they did. I felt like I was being nosey, but then I realized I was just being a good journalist. 

I became the editor of the opinion desk the next year alongside my associate editor, Lizzy Palmquist. It was in this role that I learned to pay attention to detail, interview and hire writers and appreciate the work that goes into putting the paper together each Monday. 

COVID-19 hit at the end of my editing job, and that’s when I catapulted into the world of news writing. More people were reading the news than ever before, and I wanted to be the one reporting it. 

During the first six months of the pandemic, I wrote about the struggles and comeback of the local arts world for Eugene Weekly. I also said goodbye to opinion and hopped on over to the Emerald’s news desk while starting a PR job in the SOJC communications office. It was a lot to take on, but my editors were there for me every step of the way. Duncan Baumgarten, Ardy Tabrizian and Jack Forrest are going to run The New York Times one day. 

My first news story was about the wildfire season in Oregon. The sky still had that ominous orange glow, and I could not get the smell of smoke out of my masks for the life of me. With less than a week before deadline, I was asked to turn the story into a cover. I panicked and wrote the whole thing in two and a half days. 

Once I started writing news, it hit me that I would never be able to fully separate my work and home life. The stories I wrote mattered too much for me to forget about them once I closed my laptop. On the education beat, I wrote about a professor’s pay equity lawsuit against the university, faculty concerns about workplace safety and whether or not UO was fulfilling its promise to be anti-racist. I was a guest on OPB’s podcast “Think Out Loud” to talk about a story I wrote on a huge off-campus party during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. I received angry emails and phone calls from readers who had read my stories and hated them. I was living the dream! 

While the Emerald taught me most of what I know about journalism, a few SOJC professors have been an integral part of my growth here. Peter Laufer, Brent Walth and Nicole Dahmen equally inspired and drove me crazy these past couple of years. They pushed me to the edges of my comfort level, and then told me I could do more. I am forever grateful for their mentorship and 100% honesty about the journalism industry. 

This summer I will drive six hours east to Baker City, Oregon, where I will cover everything that happens in a small, rural community for 10 weeks as part of the Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. After that, who knows? 

Thank you to the Emerald and SOJC for allowing me to make mistakes and learn from them. I feel prepared to go out and hold elected leaders accountable, expose broken systems and find solutions to fix them. Most of all, I look forward to reading future Emerald coverage and watching my friends change the world with their words.

Editor's note: This story was updated on June 3 to reflect that Joanna Mann was a guest on OPB's podcast "Think Out Loud" not "Up First."