Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Photo Editor goes pro, comes back to revive department, leaves again

Roberto Ramirez

My first photo meeting, in the fall of 2021, I sat at the ping pong table in the basement we call a newsroom and thought, “I’ll do this a little differently when I’m photo editor.”

Like most life decisions, I decided this was my final semester at the paper after a clarifying tarot reading (and after my therapist diagnosed me with chronic stress).

I came to UT for The Daily Texan. But very quickly I moved beyond, to professional publications — which is exactly where a student paper should get you. I’ve worked in many newsrooms; The Dallas Morning News, The Austin Chronicle, The Texas Tribune, but there’s a magic in student newsrooms you can’t create anywhere else. 

Save for this fall, every semester at the Texan I’ve held two positions as a reporter and photographer. The truth is, though, they’re inseparable positions. Both are just tools for storytelling. 

When I joined The Texas Tribune as a photography fellow this past spring, I decided before I even left that I’d return to the Texan. I learned so much. I was shooting a Trump rally in Waco delivering photos to editors faster than Reuters; but I couldn’t wait to return to the basement and share techniques with new photographers.

I have the Tribune to thank for our transformed photo assignment system, considering I copied their digital assignment configuration and coded slack integrations. 

As former photo staffer Connor Downs said in a text a year ago, “If Leila is ever editor, the photo department is going to be controversial.” I hope I lived up to that. Print budget night ice-breaker answers of mine included the hot take “journalism isn’t a cornerstone to democracy because the United States certainly isn’t one.”

Freshman year Leila came in with quite the four year plan. I’m a double major in Radio-TV-Film and Journalism, and started my first semester fresh off the heels of a mentorship at The Dallas Morning News. I figured I already had my foot in the door for journalism, so I’d spend the next two years on that before pivoting to film. (I’m also an Arabic minor, so if all goes according to this crazy ambitious plan, I’ll be covering North Africa for Al Jazeera). 

The funny thing about big aspirations is you just have to believe you’ll reach them, even if a part of you finds your audacity incredulous. It’s something about the law of assumption. Or maybe I’m more qualified than I give myself credit for. 

Next semester, I look forward to working under MFA student Fatima Wardy on her thesis film alongside other African and Muslim filmmakers. I’m also honored to be the first to receive the School of Journalism and Media’s Canon camera documentary/photojournalism mentorship and work with photographer Natalie Keyssar. 

Thank you to the journalists I’ve met here. Including some of my closest friends; former photo editor Kara Hawley (who is kicking ass as staff photographer at the Rockford Register Star), Connor Downs and Julius Shieh (who funnily enough traded Tribune fellow/photo editor positions with me). Thank you to Lorianne Willett, who has been by my side since freshman year; to former staffers I look up to, including Texas Tribune director of photography Pu Huang, associate editor Eddie Gaspar, New York Times photographer Tamir Khalifa, who have shown me that our expansive photojournalist network does not come to an end when we leave The Daily Texan. Thank you to my past news editors, Brooke, Skye and Anna, who taught me a tremendous amount about reporting. Kudos to Kevin Vu for cutting down 30 inch stories of mine over the phone a couple summers ago. To the new staffers I only got to spend this semester with, best believe I’ll be keeping an eye on you – especially Manoo, Charlotte, (mini-me) Naina, Skyler, and the rest of this talented bunch. 

I faced a lot of challenges as editor this semester. Thank you to Peter Chen for listening when I insisted we covered the sensitive subject matter of the current Gazan genocide and our community’s response. Thank you to Morgan Severson, who agreed when I said it was our responsibility as journalists, students or not, to report on the suicide in West Campus in October when we arrived on the scene, and arranged counseling for us afterward. Thank you Morgan and Breigh for putting up with my fights on which photo to use for cover. Thank you Sara Kinney for always accommodating photo’s last minute additions!

You can keep up with me and my upcoming work on instagram, and on my substack Verisimilitudes. (Keep an eye out for my films and documentaries!)

As the star above our photo department desk reads: live, laugh, libel. See you guys through the viewfinder! 

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About the Contributor
Leila Saidane, Photo Editor
Leila Saidane is a junior from Dallas, Texas, studying Radio-TV-Film and Journalism. Her words and photos have been published in The Texas Tribune, The Austin Chronicle, The Austin American-Statesman and The Dallas Morning News.