The magazine for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at
Iowa State University
Emily Barske (
Emily Barske ('18 journalism and mass communication, marketing) at her desk in the Iowa State Daily newsroom. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)

Leading innovation in a changing media landscape

When Emily Barske decided she wanted to become a journalist, it was because she believed in the value of the media. Recently reappointed to serve as editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily for a second year – the first time a student has served two terms in more than 20 years – she now meticulously balances quality journalism with the right use of data and technology.

“In the current media landscape, you have to be continuously innovative,” she said. “It’s the key to making sure your news organization is successful.”

Barske (’18 journalism and mass communications, marketing) began serving as The Daily’s editor-in-chief in the fall of 2016. She began working for the school paper the summer before her freshman year, and was inspired to apply for the editor position when she saw a need to push the publication forward.

“My overarching goal as editor has been to find new, better and different ways to strengthen [The Daily’s] relevance in the community,” she said. “Just because a certain story gets the most clicks doesn’t mean it’s the most important story.”

Juggling balance

In her classes in Hamilton Hall, which houses the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, Barske learns to balance business with journalistic values. Her courses help her learn how to report and write for electronic media, teach her the basic principles of storytelling and stress the importance of ethics and ownership in work pertinent to news media. At The Daily, those challenges are put to the test, and Barske is at the helm.

“In the current media landscape, you have to be continuously innovative,” she said. “It’s the key to making sure your news organization is successful.”

Arming herself with the right tools, she eagerly embraces the challenge of an unpredictable media climate. Her staff uses digital resources to accurately gauge how readers feel about the subjects they cover. Every day, her team is given an analytics report with the top 10 stories from the previous day to help guide discussions and brainstorms for upcoming story ideas. But numbers are not the only thing that matters.

Barske meets with some of her staff in the newsroom. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)
Barske meets with some of her staff in the newsroom. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)

“We ask ourselves, ‘How do we get people to read and care about the topics that are important to the community?’” she said. “We always ask what the goal of the story or project is and talk about the best way to reach that goal. Then, we listen to our readers’ feedback.”

Barske’s team does not write a full news story every time. Sometimes it is a series of stories. Sometimes it is just a photo on social media.

She looks at story placement, such as who clicked on a story when it was linked beside a different story. Her team looks at factors like story length, where web traffic came from (Social media? The website? Organic traffic?) and whether readers followed prompts such as to leave a response on social media.

“The details add up and we use these numbers as a guide,” she said. “The analytics are a critical part of what we do, but we are still journalists, and a journalist’s value lies in the ability to anticipate what’s important and relay that information to the community.”

"Emily has been good at recognizing the needs of students," Mark Witherspoon, The Daily's editorial adviser, said. "Just because students aren't reading print like they used to doesn't keep us from providing the news they need and want."

Building a modern newsroom

In 2014, The Daily staff received the ultimate gift: a brand new newsroom. Sleek and modern with conference rooms; offices for editors, advertising and management staff; a photo studio; and plenty of space for working, it puts some professional newsrooms to shame.

“The details add up and we use these numbers as a guide,” she said. “The analytics are a critical part of what we do, but we are still journalists, and a journalist’s value lies in the ability to anticipate what’s important and relay that information to the community.”

Barske has added to the newsroom, too. In her first year as editor, she introduced new staff positions including a digital editor to oversee all digital initiatives from live events to Snapchat, and an engagement coordinator to promote The Daily to the community.

Barske works with Luke Manderfeld, assistant sports editor, on an upcoming story. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)
Barske works with Luke Manderfeld, assistant sports editor, on an upcoming story. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)

"For the first time, we've had an editor-in-chief that is focused on engaging the ISU community in a lot of different ways," Witherspoon said. "When we wrote a 13-part series on sexual assault, she helped host a forum with ISU Police, a writer who did a first-person piece on her own sexual assualt, and a group of wellness people. After that, there was an hour-long discussion. Emily wants to educate people in different ways, and that isn't always just a news story."

During her second year, she plans to hire an additional digital editor to split responsibilities between digital content and social media.

“We aren’t just a newspaper, we are a news organization,” she said. “Everything we do revolves around giving the community what they need, however they need it.”

With readers consuming news in different ways all the time, Barske needs to think ahead to meet the demand. Sometimes, that means using a lighthearted story to drive readers to more serious content. Sometimes it means pushing a series across all platforms – print, web, social – until a discussion begins.

“We aren’t just a newspaper, we are a news organization,” she said. “Everything we do revolves around giving the community what they need, however they need it.”

“We ran a story this spring about a student writing a petition for Fred Hoiberg to be the next Iowa State president,” she said. “It was the most shared item on our Facebook page this year. The story is really just funny and the chances of Hoiberg becoming president are slim-to-none. However, because people were interested in the story, they were able to get to our website and see the links to other important stories related to the presidential search process.”

Experience beyond the campus newsroom

One of Barske’s biggest challenges has been fostering innovative ways to promote The Daily’s content to readers. In addition to learning from a great team of professors – many who have worked in the media industry – she spent the summer of 2016 interning for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, during her required internship where she focused on feature-style writing. She returned for a second summer this May, with a new focus on community engagement.

Barske was named editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily two years in a row for her innovative ideas to advance the news organization. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)
Barske was named editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily two years in a row for her innovative ideas to advance the news organization. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)

“My time at The Gazette has been a great experience for me because I’ve been able to build my skills as a reporter while learning how a large newsroom that is digitally connected operates,” she said.

The Gazette is an industry leader in digital news, with features that include an online fact checker that checks and grades statements made by local and national political candidates and office holders, and a data center that tracks and breaks down information such as Iowa legislator votes and how Iowa’s new Medicaid system works. These innovative approaches to keeping readers informed have given Barske new ideas to bring to The Daily.

Barske hopes her big ideas and credentials as an editor will lead to leadership positions after graduation. Her leadership role has been her favorite aspect of her time at The Daily, and has led to a handful of prestigious awards, including being named a Columbia School of Journalism fellow in 2016, and the Iowa College Media Association’s Journalist of the Year in 2017.

“Emily has shown an incredible ability to lead a team through a big transition period for news,” Witherspoon said. “Newspapers today have to engage the community in a lot of different ways, especially in a time where there is a lot of inaccurate news. Nothing is beyond her capabilities.”

A chance to shine at Iowa State

Barske had an interest in sports journalism since grade school. Stuart Scott, a former ESPN anchor, was a childhood hero, and the thought of working for ESPN was a dream. From Marshalltown, Iowa, she took a few college courses while in high school to get a feel for broadcast journalism. Certain she wanted to attend the University of Iowa, her dad convinced her to check out the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State.

Emily Barske leads a team of writers, editors, photographers, designers and others as editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)
Emily Barske leads a team of writers, editors, photographers, designers and others as editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily. (Blake Lanser/Iowa State University.)

“After my first campus tour I absolutely fell in love with the Greenlee School,” she said. “I loved the sense of community and the learning experiences I would have and the feel of the program. I can’t believe I almost passed by this opportunity.”

Her gumption, fearlessness and positive outlook have earned Barske awards and accolades from her supervisors and her peers. But to Barske, recognition is more than a plaque on the wall.

“Nothing beats being the editor and working here every day,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized for the innovative ideas I’ve brought to The Daily, but the Greenlee School encourages everyone to be creative and bring ideas that will change the future of the media. That’s why all Greenlee students are so well-suited for their careers.”

“Nothing beats being the editor and working here every day,” she said. “It’s nice to be recognized for the innovative ideas I’ve brought to The Daily, but the Greenlee School encourages everyone to be creative and bring ideas that will change the future of the media. That’s why all Greenlee students are so well-suited for their careers.”

The key to a successful career in journalism, she said, is to be prepared to offer ideas for change.

“As long as you go in with the mindset that you’ll adapt with the industry and provide solutions, you’ll be fine,” she said. “If you’re offering something the industry isn’t already doing that would help get news and information into people’s hands, why wouldn’t someone hire you?”