Dan Visits The Daily Pennsylvanian, Part 2: ‘All Good Things are Wild & Free’
[Check Out Part 1: An Audit or an Audition]
Daily Pennsylvanian editor-in-chief Jill Castellano has a painting above the desk in her newsroom office sporting the words “All Good Things are Wild & Free.” On her iMac screen, by comparison, is a Google doc with three tabs: “Weekly Timeline,” “To Do” and “Accountability.”
Castellano, 20, is accountable for the editorial side of The Daily Pennsylvanian operations. As second-in-command to executive editor Matt Mantica, she oversees and assists more than 300 DP staffers. She also keeps an eye on the top-notch arts and culture magazine 34th Street and the news, gossip and entertainment blog Under the Button.
During a chat in her office earlier this month, Castellano oozed calm passion and a packed schedule. She sported a peachy blouse underneath a tan blazer with black slacks, long sandy blond hair with a deep part and a warm smile.
In a crayon drawing on a nearby bulletin board, meanwhile, she is dressed in purple and her hair is straight-up shiny gold. Under a sunny blue sky, Castellano is standing in a grass field with flowers, a bumblebee, a butterfly, a tall tree and her sister. Tess Castellano, 6, drew the picture for Jill, in part to show how much she misses her older sibling when she’s at school.
The walls in Castellano’s office are peppered with hand-drawn and mass-produced art, in-house paperwork, DP front pages and a pair of identical oversized bubble calendars — most days still un-popped.
The DP’s mission statement stands out amid one clutter of papers hung to the side of her desk. The first three tenets of the statement:
– To provide clear, honest and objective news coverage to the campus and University community.
– To be a forum for free expression of ideas, and issues, regardless of their viewpoints.
– To offer students on staff a meaningful learning experience.
I asked Castellano how her fellow staff would describe her. With the “Wild & Free” painting still behind her, she replied:
“Honestly, I’m pretty meticulous. I’m less relaxed than other people around the office probably. I really care. I have such a vested interest because if it looks bad then I feel I look bad because I’m leading the editorial content for everything we do. But I’m definitely not a slave driver. I’m a collaborator-type person, so the more voices we can get working together the better. Always. Always. So I have people asking me, ‘Hey this random person on ad [the advertising staff] has an idea. Do you want to hear it?’ Obviously. I always want input. At the DP we are our audience. Any student here knows what other students would be interested in.”
One of the new board’s first bold actions: redefining Castellano’s job, and job title.
Castellano is quite possibly the last managing editor in DP history, and its first editor-in-chief. The shift from ME to EIC not long into her tenure this semester was in part to help bridge the gap among the DP’s big three brands — the paper, 34th Street and UTB.
Castellano said staffers at each outlet had noticed more communication mix-ups, coverage redundancies and missed collaboration opportunities in recent semesters. “It just didn’t make sense to have all these smart people not communicating with one other when we’re all working for the same company,” she said. “So under the ‘one company’ idea, [the board] suggested taking the managing editor position and making it the editor-in-chief position where I now have some oversight over 34th Street and Under the Button. It’s not a dictatorial role at all. It’s mainly about increasing communication and holding more meetings.”
More Meetings is definitely the unofficial mantra of Castellano’s current gig.
From what she showed me on the tab of her Google doc marked “Weekly Timeline,” she has at least 26 scheduled meetings each week. Mixed in with production nights and an undoubtedly endless pile of phone calls, emails and texts, she said she easily logs a 50-hour workweek.
She regularly overloaded on classes in past semesters, but this semester has cut back to three. She is taking Psychology and Law, Criminal Justice and American Constitutional Law on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – meaning right now she has more production nights than class days.
Each week, Sunday through Thursday, Castellano is in the newsroom until roughly 2 a.m. She then walks roughly two blocks to her University of Pennsylvania residence hall. It’s close to the Copabanana restaurant on 40th and Spruce streets — the site of Castellano’s first homicide.
A year ago to the day, after a late-night argument in the Copabanana, a 26-year-old Philadelphia man named Corey Gaynor shot a stranger multiple times in the head, chest, leg and hands with a semiautomatic pistol. He was apparently exacting revenge for a perceived insult directed at his girlfriend.
Castellano helped cover the case for the paper, as part of her yearlong stint on the crime beat. She also played a seminal role in the DP’s coverage of the sudden spate of student suicides at the Ivy League school.
This past fall, as a senior writer, Castellano produced a number of what she called “longer pieces exploring the state of Penn’s campus.” Example 1) A history of student racial tensions. Example 2) An in-depth profile of Maureen Rush, the school’s first female police chief and public safety department head.
In the latter piece, a source describes Rush in a manner that seems to echo Castellano’s journalist persona: “She is all take-no-prisoners, tell-it-like-it-is.”
Today’s issue of The Daily Pennsylvanian
So how does a psychology and criminology major with no childhood journalism ambitions end up as one of the most powerful figures in college media? It begins with “The Wait.”
A native of Westchester County, N.Y., Castellano wrote a poem in high school by that title. It won a schoolwide poetry slam. The theme: Stop waiting for life to happen and dive in.
It’s the same sentiment that for a long time kept her from appreciating journalism. “I used to think if you’re capable then you do and if you’re not as capable then you write about what others do,” she said. “But I’ve learned that is not the case because there is so much that goes into being able to synthesize and explore and present information to others. That realization has been huge for me.”
The realization finally sunk in full bore last spring during a staff training boot camp organized by DP alumni – including NBC “Today” financial editor Jean Chatzky.
Castellano’s memory of the life-changing event:
“It was speaker after speaker, three days in a row of ‘Journalism is wonderful and here are all the reasons why.’ And I totally bought it. I loved it. Then I had somewhat of an identity crisis because I definitely wasn’t thinking of going into journalism. But I realized it does so much for the world and it’s something I also just personally enjoy because I’m a curious person and I get to pursue whatever interests I want to.”
Her range of interests is evident in the pieces she talks about with me and points out on her office walls — from a current investigation of Penn’s cocaine culture to the recent famous Emma-Watson-enrolling-at-Penn satire story.
The front page featuring the latter piece is affixed to the front wall of her office by the door. The handwritten note from Castellano thumbtacked over it: “That time the DP won the Internet.”
And now for the inevitable existential Internet-versus-print tête-à-tête:
Dan: “Do you still believe in print? … Do you feel like you are still on a campus with a print-reading culture among your student peers?”
Jill: “No. There’s definitely not a print-reading culture. I think you can convince people to pick up the paper. But there’s definitely not a culture of picking up the paper like there used to be.”
Dan: “How does that vibe with how you spend a majority of your week focused on putting out a print product? The existential question, of course.” [Mutual laughter]
Jill: “Yeahhhh, I don’t know. It’s always this back and forth. We do spend a lot of time on print. But what I’ve tried to focus on is moving away from trying to focus on print and moving toward spending time on good content, which can be pursued online or in print.”
The print I appreciated most in her office is a poster displaying what on spec looks like a New York City skyline. Along with Tess’s drawing, it’s the only outdoorsy image in the windowless room.
“That’s my window,” Castellano told me with a smile. “I think it’s New York. I’m pretty sure it’s Manhattan. We’re going to go with that.”
Her own favorite piece of office art, meanwhile, is a wood-paneled painting — a gift from her parents celebrating her promotion to ME/EIC.
It sports a prominent semicolon atop five words, all caps: MY STORY ISN’T OVER YET.
To Be Continued…
[Part 3: A Most Unexpected Career]