by Sam Carlen
Few college journalists can say that the New York Times has linked to one of their articles. Catherine Leffert can. The New York Times, Washington Post, and other major news outlets linked to an article she wrote with several other editors at Syracuse University’s student-run newspaper, the Daily Orange, covering the Theta Tau scandal, where members of the engineering fraternity created videos laden with racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and ableist speech and gestures. The videos sparked outrage across the University and led to the spring 2018 suspension of the school’s Theta Tau chapter.
Leffert, now a 22-year-old rising senior at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, worked day and night to cover the scandal.
“It was crazy,” Leffert said. “I skipped all my classes, I didn’t sleep, people were sending pizza to the Daily Orange house because we weren’t eating.”
Speaking with Catherine makes it clear that her tireless coverage of this story is representative of her enviable work ethic. Leffert manages to balance her responsibilities as managing editor of the Daily Orange with her coursework – coursework made more extensive by the fact that she double majors in newspaper & online journalism and political science and minors in Spanish.
“She can juggle the intricacies of putting out a daily news outlet with going to school and maintaining grades,” Leffert’s academic advisor Associate Professor Roy Gutterman said.
“She’s not afraid to take on pretty big stories,” Gutterman continued.
Leffert first became interested in journalism after signing up to write for her high school newspaper. She initially had no intention of doing more than passing what she viewed as a filler course, but soon discovered she loved it.
For college, Leffert decided to leave her hometown of Dallas to attend Syracuse University in upstate New York, in part because of their journalism program. She originally wanted to go into broadcast journalism, but soon decided to switch to newspaper journalism because she wanted more space to tell stories.
Leffert was initially intimidated by the Daily Orange and only wrote five articles for the paper her freshman year. The fact that the paper is headquartered in a dilapidated house several blocks from campus did not help matters. Spurred by a desire for more journalism experience, Leffert applied to be the student association beat writer her sophomore year. She got the job and began writing two articles per week on all things student government. She views this as a turning point in her journalism career
“It’s what got me really involved in the Daily Orange,” Leffert said. “Most people don’t know anything about the student association, and I sort of became the resident expert on everything they were doing and how they were spending their money.”
In the spring of her sophomore year, Leffert began working as assistant news editor. In this role, she wrote two articles per week, helped formulate and generate story ideas, edited news articles and helped come up with headlines. She continued this job through the first semester of her junior year, after which she assumed a smaller role while she studied abroad in Madrid.
However, even in Madrid, she wasn’t able to escape the allure of journalism. Leffert covered a controversy that arose during her study-abroad program where students and professors were saying the n-word in an academic context in a manner that upset many students on the program.
As Managing Editor, a position she assumed in April 2019, Leffert reads and lightly edits every article published online or in print for the Daily Orange. She also helps section editors plan when they will run certain articles and manages day-to-day and personnel problems.
This summer, Leffert will be working as a business reporting intern at the Dallas Business Journal as part of the Dow Jones News Fund/American City Business Journals business reporting internship program. Leffert actually did not actually apply for this position – she only applied to the digital media internship but was nevertheless offered the job. She surmises that her experience at the Central New York Business Journal last summer might have helped her land the position.
“The thing I love most about journalism is telling peoples’ stories, and I think a lot of journalists would say the same thing,” Leffert said. “A lot of people see something, or maybe hear something every single day, but might not think about the intricacies and the details of that, and I think what journalism does is really brings those things to light.”