Review Editor-in-Chief, Katherine MacPhail, OC ’21, Talks Running a Newspaper in a Pandemic


Anisa Curry Vietze

Katherine Macphail

College fourth-year Katherine MacPhail has served as the Review’s Editor-in-Chief since fall 2019. MacPhail began working as a production editor for the Review in fall of 2018 and then worked as Arts & Culture editor before moving to Editor-in-Chief. She has led the paper through two academic years and guided the Review during the pandemic and its transition to remote work and online-only publication. She is known in the Review office for her ability to write a great lede in seconds and for her very contagious laughter. She is a fantastic co-editor and I will miss her very much. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You just wrapped up your second year as Editor-in-Chief. Do you ever feel like you have sacrificed for the Review, being someone who is always busy and works 30+ hours a week?

I definitely have sacrificed for the Review, but it was because I decided that it was the thing that I liked the most. I liked it more than school, so it was very easy for me to prioritize the newspaper. [Laughs] 

For the Editor-in-Chief position, compared to the others, there are definitely a lot of days where it’s more stressful than it is fun. But it still feels so worthwhile. I just became so passionate about it, I think in large part because of the feeling of community accountability. There are so many incredible people that you’re working with and that are relying on you — the Review staff, but also the people who live in Oberlin, College faculty and staff, and all our readers and writers. The knowledge that the thing that we’re doing actually matters to people is what makes it worth all of the stress and the energy and the relentless, endless work. 

I think I’ve definitely — and sorry to my classes and my professors, who were incredible — but I really think that I have done the most learning on the job with the newspaper. It just puts you in situations where you have to be making decisions and really learn by doing. 

I actually didn’t like Oberlin before I started working for the Review because I didn’t feel connected to the College, to life on- or off-campus. I was actually thinking about transferring. Once I started participating in things, I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s important to become a part of a community and feel connected to the place where you are and that’s how you start to enjoy your time there.” So I’m very grateful that I picked the Review and that I got involved with an organization that connects you so firmly to the whole Oberlin community. 

You really know a lot about Oberlin at this point.

Yeah, that is really fun. Oftentimes someone will be pitching an idea for an article to me and I immediately know who they should contact and I can give them references and I can think of three articles in our archives that relate to the story and I just feel like I have so much background knowledge and information and understanding of the history of this place and all the people who are a part of this community. I have a little Ph.D. in Oberlin. [Laughs] I just feel very connected to this place to a depth that I don’t think I would have if not for the newspaper.

What were some of the most important stories of this year?

Obviously it’s been a really tough year for everyone because of the pandemic. We’ve covered a lot of difficult things from businesses closing, to allegations of discrimination within STEM departments, to the outsourcing of the UAW. I mean, so many hardships this year. But I think that also you can see in Oberlin the resilience. Oberlin students navigated student activism during a pandemic and created mutual aid projects, we covered new businesses opening and old ones reopening, and, institutionally, the College was very successful in navigating the pandemic.

There was a point where the ledes to all our stories were beginning with, “During these unprecedented times…” So we had to cut that out and say to our staff, “No more ‘unprecedented!’” But then all our stories would be, “These people are persevering, even through COVID.” And we also had to cut that out because it was just like every single story. So we had to find a way to discuss how folks were doing during the pandemic without repeating that over and over again. But I do think that people did come together to support one another in a way that I think is really heartening.

In your time as Editor-in-Chief, what have you learned about managing a team?

I think that the thing that makes the Review manageable is the community. Without that it would just be far too difficult and stressful and really hard to pull off. The fact that there is a group of such wonderful, supportive people really helps you get through the day and makes it all worth it. Also the fact that it can be really invigorating to be working on like the craziest group project of all time every week. I definitely wanted to create a culture with levity and I just want people to have fun. I want everyone to show up and feel really comfortable with each other, and I want everyone to feel included. 

Also, when I started working at the Review I felt like I could take it really seriously because senior staff was taking it so seriously and I think that people actually crave that to some extent — people want to dedicate themselves to something that everyone is really passionate about and is working really hard on. So if you just show how seriously you take something and set the example then you can ask the same of others and have a really good working environment and relationship because of that. Our staff works so hard and really gives it their all and I’m really appreciative of that. I think that that’s the only way it could possibly work.

I will say I want our staff to be able to create boundaries between the newspaper and their life, because we do work a lot. And I don’t want other people on staff to put as much time and energy into the Review as you and I do, and Kate Fishman, managing editor, does. Because that’s such a huge commitment and with other staff positions, like you’re not signing on for that. I have set my boundaries and they are just extremely wide. And it works for me and it’s what I want and I’m able to manage it and handle it. Because I said to myself, okay, newspaper comes first, then my friends — actually those two are equal, newspaper and friends. And then school is like fourth. 

What’s third?

[Laughing] I don’t know. I think more newspaper. Newspaper overflows into third, like there’s just too much of it. And then school comes fourth. 

Do you have any advice for [the next Editors-in-Chief,] Kushagra Kar and me, as we transition to running this newspaper without you?

I would say for you two to trust yourselves because I have so much faith in both of you. And I think that being Editor-in-Chief is often a really scary position to be in, but I think that you both are so compassionate and dedicated and smart, and I’m really excited to see all the wonderful things that you do.


I don’t know if I have advice necessarily, but I’m just really excited for the Review. we’ve been in hibernation a little bit this past year — because of COVID we couldn’t physically print the newspaper — and I’m excited to see the newspaper really come alive again when people can all be together. And I think that you two are the perfect people to bring her back to her full glory.