“During my very first editorial meeting (in college), I remember the editor-in-chief asking who wanted to cover this protest that was happening in response to a black tenure-track professor had been fired. This protest was just raising awareness that he had been the only black tenure track professor at the university.
I remember I was just scribbling down every detail my editor was saying and kind of absentmindedly raising my hand because of course I wanted the story, but I was 18 and a freshman and it was my first meeting, so there was no way I was gonna get it …
I was literally the only one that volunteered. So I got the story and you know, from that moment on … I was hooked on journalism”
Talk to Sarah Spicer for a few minutes and you’ll learn she’s passionate about journalism, passionate about journalists, and passionate about making an impact.
Sarah is currently a news editor for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), helping bring public awareness to issues worldwide related to press freedom, reporter safety and reporter’s rights.
We had a great conversation with her, one you can listen to by clicking on the play button above or by clicking here and selecting your podcast app of choice. . Here are a few excerpts:
When tackling a bigger story than you ever have before, replicate the Spotlight team experience
Sarah, who grew up in rural Kansas won awards in college for her coverage of Emporia State University’s cover-up of a sexual assault by a professor on a student. Covering the story was a massive project.
“With my fellow reporters, Rayna Karst and Allie Crome, we made a timeline of events on the wall of this room. And we each had our jobs. I was lead reporter. I did the interviews, found the research. Rayna was our fact checker, just a huge help. And Allie played a really unique role that we kind of jokingly called the devil’s advocate, but it was really important. What her job was, was to just go through and poke holes, tell me that I was wrong.
We actually did play the Spotlight soundtrack, while we worked. We were still students at this time, so we’re balancing doing this giant reporting project and we still have like homework and, and essays to turn in.
My biggest advice is to not undervalue your teammates. The team is what made that story take place. I could have done all of the work on my own, but if I hadn’t had our advisor, Max McCoy, taught us everything to begin with, Allie, poking holes, and Rayna helping me build this case, I don’t think it would’ve been done.
And I think it can be very easy as journalists, we have big egos. We can let that get in the way of working with each other. So my biggest advice is to just, if you can, suspend that ego, and be a good partner. That is the most important thing.”
The work was important for all involved. Allie Crome is now a high school journalism teacher. Rayna Karst works as communications coordinator for Kansas governor Laura Kelly.
What is her objective as a news editor?
I had a law professor at Columbia who told us that his job as a media lawyer was not to tell reporters that they couldn’t publish something, but to do everything he could to work with that reporter so that the story could be published. And so that’s the energy that I try to bring to CPJ.
It doesn’t matter to me where you are or your background. I think that if you’ve made a conscious decision to try to make this world a better place by telling other people’s stories and holding those in power to account, that that’s something that should not just be celebrated, but respected and honored.
In my mind, I think the very least that I can do, if you’ve made that decision, is do everything I can to protect you and help you keep doing what you do.
Without a doubt, the best part of my job is working with our researchers and our international programs. We just have the most amazing group of people.
They are wicked smart, incredibly dedicated to press freedom. I’m only 25. I hope I have a lot of life ahead of me, but I think. I’ll be able to say that it will be and has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to get to work with them and shepherd this vital reporting through the publication process.”
It’s a complex world
“When I was young, I viewed the world as this place filled with, and maybe even completely run by entropy. The randomness of life could not be explained. And who knew why terrible things happened, and of course some of that is still true.
What C P J has helped me seeis the world as a series of kind of complex, albeit imperfect systems. And I think it’s our job as journalists to identify the problem areas in these systems and name them and their harm. I don’t know if it’s given me a sense of control or maybe just an illusion of control, but I think it gives me hope that we can make the world a better place because it’s not just random. This is set up by people. And if it’s been set up by people, it can be improved by people.”