Former staff looks back at time with NI

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  • Qualley has used her experience writing for the Northern Iowan to push herself out of her comfort zone and learn how to appeal to specific audiences.

  • Madden’s staff profile photo from his time as news editor.

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Sara Qualley & Jacob Madden, Former Staff


Former Writer, ’21

Editor’s Note: Sara Qualley graduated from UNI with a B.A. is digital journalism in 2021. She now works as an academic content coordinator with Evidence in Motion, a hybrid education provider for the health care field. 

I loved working at the Northern Iowan! I lived off campus during the two years I attended UNI, so the NI felt like a gateway into keeping up with the happenings on campus. Being involved in student journalism also gave me a stronger sense of pride in the UNI community because I learned about fellow students’ stories and challenges they overcame. 

I covered a few stories that took me outside my comfort zone, something I think is important to experience as a writer and overall as a person. Working for a college newspaper also meant writing for a variety of people: college students, UNI faculty, alumni and general members of the public interested in keeping up with campus news. I enjoyed dissecting my stories and asking myself what parts would be most important to these audiences. 



Former News Editor, ’19

Editor’s note: Jacob Madden graduated from UNI with a B.A. in political communication in 2019. He now works as a campaign manager with Iowa House Democrats.

My time at the NI was pretty recent, 2015-18. Because I spent my time doing mostly political and UNI administration stories, my time as a journalist was mostly defined by Donald Trump, directly or indirectly. 

I started at the NI because I was a terrible writer and I needed some extra money. I was a music education major at the time and never thought I’d like working at the NI that much. The first story I covered was a bipartisan panel between Sen. Chuck Grassley and then State Sen. Jeff Danielson on whistleblower protection laws. After that, I was hooked. 

I brought a lot of bias to that job right out of the gate, but that got tempered as I worked on myself and grew as a professional. Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful to Nick Fisher and Clinton Olsasky, who served as executive editors during my time and were excellent mentors, as well as the advisor Laura Smith. Their patience and tutelage have been invaluable in my career. 

More than any other skill, the NI taught me to be curious. People tend to think of curiosity as a character trait but really it’s something you can hone, train and improve. The NI taught me to take the “I wonder why…” thoughts seriously, and it hasn’t led me astray yet. 

I left the NI after my junior year to work in politics and student government, and that’s what I do now. I loved being a journalist, but I knew I couldn’t just observe and record, I wanted to be in the fight. My time as a journalist has made me a pretty good political operative, though, thanks to handling tight deadlines, high pressure and staying curious. 

My time at the NI got me a political communications internship, which landed me my first job at the Iowa Democratic Party and so on. Today, I’m a campaign manager on two Iowa House races in Sioux City. Thanks to my time at the NI, instead of being a mediocre music teacher ranting on Facebook about politics, I get to wake up every day and fight for better wages and healthcare for the people — who are far better than me — that are teaching the next generation of kids.