One of Robert Kaplan’s first assignments for The Tufts Dailywas an article about an invasive beetle that was wreaking havoc upon Somerville’s ash trees in fall 2018. He remembers the story piquing his interest in journalism.
“The thing that I was interested in, which wasn't being addressed by the Somerville Tree Warden — yes, it’s a real job — was ‘what about the trees on Tufts’ campus?’” he said.
Kaplan, now a senior, would go on to hold positions such as executive news editor, business director, podcast host and features columnist at the Daily. But he got his start as a contributing writer in the news section during his first year at Tufts, writing about invasive beetles, among other topics.
“I thought it was a really fun thing to report on,” Kaplan said. “I got to go into Somerville, meet some Somerville people. [I] went to City Hall, and that kind of started me off on doing some more serious reporting that connected things going on in Tufts’ host communities with our campus community.”
Kaplan moved through the ranks of the news section, covering student government, Tufts' research institutes and Massachusetts state news, before becoming the section’s executive editor in the spring of his sophomore year.
It was an intense but rewarding job, Kaplan said, made all the more so when students were sent home after the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Everything that one does as a journalist has two parts,” Kaplan said. “There's the overt function and the underlying motivation, and so [the pandemic] is where I really began to question the difference between the two in a way that I think we hadn't been doing a lot at the Daily in quite a while.”
Kaplan said that the onset of the pandemic pushed him to reflect on the differences between “reporting for reporting’s sake” versus fulfilling the newspaper’s role as “the bedrock of the active citizenship virtue that Tufts holds so dear.” For the rest of that semester, he and the rest of the news section continued reporting university and local news from afar, publishing digitally amid an unprecedented pandemic.
The following semester, Kaplan became the Daily’s business director, a role he redesigned to address the structural problems and financial needs of the paper in that moment.
“I spent the whole summer doing a diagnosis, an internal research project on the Daily,” Kaplan said. “I got like 12 people involved from across the [executive] and [managing] board, dove deep into what all the problems with the Daily were, we interviewed alumni and so on. And then it culminated in my authoring a 36-item memo that was like, ‘Here's different problems that [the] Daily has, and ways we can address them.’”
In the end, Kaplan says his “reform agenda” was an overall success. By his count, the paper implemented 30 out of his 36 recommendations including reintroducing special issues, reorganizing ad sales, introducing the Daily’s newsletter and creating the Tufts Daily Alumni Council — all aspects of the Daily that younger readers and writers might have assumed had always existed.
“I think that really reshaped the Daily in a lot of ways,” Kaplan said. “And that's probably my proudest legacy, even more than my experience as [executive news Editor].”
Kaplan spoke to the difficulty of cultivating institutional memory at an organization such as the Daily, where leadership and membership turn over completely every four years. Some of the changes he implemented targeted this challenge.
“The hope is to give some more continuity over time so we can actually accumulate knowledge [and] experience and, therefore, progress and improve as a paper,” Kaplan said.
After his stint as business director, Kaplan pivoted to a low-stakes and more enjoyable role as host of The Rewind, a Tufts Daily podcast.
“I’ve always been told I had a good podcasting voice, … so that really appealed to my ego,” Kaplan said.
This semester, Kaplan is teaching a course out of the Experimental College designed to help current members of the Daily’s executive and managing boards critically reflect on the work of publishing an independent student newspaper.
Kaplan, who will be graduating this spring, said that teaching the ExCollege course feels like a fitting end to his time at the Daily.
“[The course] facilitates discussions that guide members of the executive and managing boards to coherent and articulate conclusions about their experiential learning as members of Daily leadership in ways that are useful for the Daily, for improving the Daily over time … but also for themselves when they leave the class. Because that's a timeless skill,” he said.
Kaplan counts professional skills and lifelong friendships among his takeaways from the many positions he has held at the Daily.
“When you spend so much time pouring yourself into something that you love, it's only natural that you'll resonate with other people who do the same,” Kaplan said. “I'm extremely grateful for the many friends that I have from my Daily experience.”