Abigail Becker, who goes by Abby, is no stranger to the wonders of Vilas Communication Hall. Walking through the old building is like a maze for several students, though there is one familiar room: The Daily Cardinal. There, Becker found camaraderie, respect, fun, learning opportunities and most of all, a community.
She got her first taste of journalism in high school in St. Louis, Missouri. As a young writer, Becker appreciated the way her teacher would treat her and her peers as real adults.
“I really sensed a lot of respect from the newspaper advisor, and that helped me take ownership over the student reporting I was doing back then,” Becker said.
Those formative years of her life helped shape her interest in the field. When Becker visited Madison, she felt tangible excitement for the future. The opportunities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in the surrounding area influenced her decision to attend in 2011. The eclectic city, full of political activism, also drew Becker to the small town.
She happened to tour UW-Madison in the months when protests began sprawling out against Act 10, legislation proposed by Governor Scott Walker. Watching State Street protests transpire on the news caught Becker’s attention, but experiencing the energy on campus in real time made her realize what living in Madison could mean for her.
“I think that was a moment for me to say, wow, there’s a lot going on here that I could learn from, and it’s an exciting city,” she said.
Becker became involved in campus life early in her undergraduate career. After going to a Daily Cardinal meeting and following up on a recommendation to join the university’s official, independent student newspaper, she sought after the opportunity to write. Becker felt empowered after receiving her first assignment, and went on to produce more content as a freshman and sophomore. The time investment she made in her stories proved worthwhile. She now reports for The Capital Times, covering city and county government.
In her early college years, Becker also became the publication’s first Social Media Manager. Discovering how to define the then- brand new role, she learned critical interpersonal skills. Becker had to convey her vision and pitch it to the editorial team.
“Externally, I think it really proved to me that working in a news organization is very much all-comprehensive,” Becker said. “There are so many facets to it and they all really need to work together in order for the publication to be successful.”
Upon entering her junior year of college, Becker became Editor in Chief (EIC), which is no easy feat. Balancing her new responsibilities brought new challenges. At the time, she had to navigate ways to preserve the financial viability of The Daily Cardinal, boost its digital presence, communicate to staff and ensure a print product was still made available. All the while, Becker was a student, carving her path and affirming her deep love for journalism.
As with any leadership position, she faced tough decisions. There were chaotic and stressful nights. But Becker also recalls and laughs about several late nights, when she and her colleagues would have long, deep discussions debating philosophical questions.
Her favorite memory is when she and her peers visited the printing press and got the first copies of the paper. Then, they ate pancakes at an ungodly hour - about 3 a.m. Still, the feeling of pride and companionship resonates with her today.
“I just had so much respect for everyone who chose to volunteer their time because it was such a huge commitment,” Becker said. “I think that we just all had a lot of respect for each other because we were all trying to work toward a common goal.”
Asked what qualities make for a successful journalist today, Becker emphasized the importance of genuine curiosity.
“I think at some point you will realize there will always be so many things that you don’t know,” she said. “And I think that what makes a good journalist is recognizing all of those things, then being able to find the answers and then question those answers.”
Becker has found that the more she practices interviewing and reporting, the more confident she feels. At the same time, she also feels passionate about continuing her education.
“I know that there is much more left that I need to learn and improve on as a journalist,” Becker said. “I hope that people in power in Madison read my stories and know what the community is thinking, and I hope the community knows what their elected representatives are doing.”
Her grit and fascination in journalism has lasted through time. Similar to other reporters, Becker believes in the journalistic notion of accountability. Yet she also believes the trade is not immune to its own tenets. Maintaining integrity and building trust, she said, is essential.
“The journalism industry has a lot to learn and a lot to change to rebuild the trust with the community,” she said, adding that student newspapers are an important component. “I think supporting The Daily Cardinal means that you’re supporting an independent institution that values a culture of teaching and learning.”
In terms of Becker’s future, she envisions a long career in local journalism with potential to move to a bigger city someday. For now, she’s happy staying in Madison, marveling in all of its beauty and doing what she loves since her time with the Cardinal: reporting.