Former Columbian co-editors helm their Ivy League school newspapers

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SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — For the first few months of 2021, all eight Ivy League colleges had campus newsrooms led by women. Until March, when annual elections at Dartmouth College’s The Dartmouth changed the newspaper’s leadership, it was the second time ever that all eight schools had women in the top editorial position; the first time was during portions of 2016, according to Princeton University’s The Daily Princetonian. Two of the editors-in-chief still at the helm of their respective papers are Columbia High School graduates who served as co-editors of The Columbian in 2017-2018: Hadriana Lowenkron at the University of Pennsylvania and Sarah Braka at Columbia University.

Lowenkron is tasked with managing the 300-member staff of The Daily Pennsylvanian, where she started as a freshman copy editor. Now a junior, she worked her way up through the ranks as a reporter and editor before heading up the whole operation this year while still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic that upended how campus reporters cover their school.

“We had already had a daily newsletter, and that became our product,” Lowenkron said in a phone interview with the News-Record on April 8. “The social aspect was completely gutted. The main thing was going in in-person and going over a story with editors, which became the story being edited and shown to you after.”

The same thing happened on Columbia’s campus. Braka, who is the editor-in-chief of the Columbia Daily Spectator and president of the publishing company that manages the paper, wasn’t expecting most of her term in the top position to be spent out of the office.

“It changed the workflow,” she said in a phone interview with the News-Record on April 10. “All the timelines changed. One nice thing about it is the flexibility, but you lose the community aspect.”

Luckily, no one was navigating the turmoil on their own. The editors of the Ivy League papers are in touch with one another, but Lowenkron and Braka had the advantage of a preexisting friendship from their days at CHS. Both had decided to take the high school’s journalism class on a whim when scheduling other classes didn’t work out, and at the end of their junior year they were named co-editors for the next year by The Columbian’s advisers, Joshua Enyeart and Cindy Malhotra. They knew each other only as acquaintances at that point but became friends quickly.

“I guess our adviser knew what he was doing,” Lowenkron said. “We became super close then.”

They remained close even as they went to college in different cities. When they started working at their respective campus papers, Lowenkron and Braka’s paths through the editorial ranks were similar: Both started as copy editors, and both were running for editor-in-chief around the same time.

“It was fun to go through this at the same time,” Braka said. “She became editor-in-chief two weeks before I did, and it was so exciting.”

They have read each other’s work and asked each other for advice, even though, despite all they have in common, there is one significant difference: Lowenkron is a journalism and urban studies major who wants to work in media professionally, while Braka is studying mechanical engineering and does not.

“This is just going to be me talking about how great Sarah is,” Lowenkron joked. “It’s super impressive to me that she just does it all. We were copy editors at the same time, and we were on the phone throughout the whole process. She never feels that far removed. It’s nice to know you’re in the same boat as someone else, especially with the pandemic.”

According to Braka and Lowenkron, both their newspapers have had a majority-female staff during their respective time at Columbia and Penn. Braka is the sixth woman in a row to lead her paper. But more often than not, Lowenkron said it has been the inverse.

“It’s such an interesting thing that doesn’t happen as much as it should,” Braka said. “We want more of it. Diversity is always a conversation we’re having, not just for gender, but also for race and sexuality.”

She credits The Columbian for the positions they’re in now.

“It’s amazing that we went from co-editors to editors-in-chief of our respective papers,” Braka said. “I would not be here and she would not be a friend if not for it.”

Braka isn’t alone in feeling that way. Lowenkron also looks back at the CHS paper fondly.

“I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had at Columbia,” she said. “I wasn’t planning on taking the journalism class. I just thought, ‘That sounds fun.’ An accidental circumstance is what started this whole thing.”

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