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The case for innovation

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MAY 11, 2012

All in only one week and a half this past November, police officers used force against protesters to clear tents off Sproul Plaza, an armed student was shot and killed at a campus computer lab, a sea of students rallied on Sproul to listen to Professor Robert Reich lecture about inequality and an apartment building just south of campus was destroyed in an inferno.

Needless to say, the 200 students of The Daily Californian staff had a hefty responsibility on their shoulders. Important questions had to be answered, and the spotlight was on the Daily Cal to make sense of it all.

We were ready. This was what students at the Daily Cal had done for 140 years, except on steroids. All hands were on deck, from our police expert asking questions of the police departments to our online manager working to bolster our website as it buckled under record traffic. Our predecessors prepared us well, their predecessors prepared them, and so on.

But something was different. Armed with countless new technologies that had surfaced with the advent of the Internet, we had a heightened ability to deliver faster, better content. And your expectations of us were rightfully higher than ever.

Our Twitter feed buzzed with breaking updates, our Storify page aggregated the latest Tweets from the scene and our newly redesigned website bustled with fresh, rapidly-updating live blogs, articles, photos and videos. We used SoundCloud to provide Reich’s speech raw to the public and CoveritLive to answer your questions directly via live chat in “Ask the Daily Cal.”

When the dust settled, our number of Facebook followers was up more than 40 percent, we had reached more than 1 million pageviews in November and we won first and second place Best Use of Social Media at statewide collegiate media competitions for our coverage through the frenzy.

Our reporters’ knowledge of the issues and our editors’ incredible oversight and coordination made the success possible. But the key was our willingness to test fresh ideas, wade into new waters, take risks and innovate.

Today’s economy and society recognize value faster and more precisely than ever. A few people in an everyday setting can sprout a new great idea — like Facebook or Instagram — and it can skyrocket to the national scene within days. Post a funny meme on Facebook and it can gather likes from around the world within minutes.

At the same time, today’s world also has lower tolerance for mediocrity than ever. Gone are the days we could expect to excel by simply filling our predecessors’ shoes and pulling levers and pushing buttons per their instructions. That’s boring, and quite frankly, nobody is impressed.

Yet rest assured that innovation is so much more fun than mediocrity. There is not much in this world more fulfilling than watching a new idea you concocted burgeon and make a tangible difference.

You only have one life. In the history of the world, there have been many, many people who have followed very similar paths to yours. In the short time you have on this planet, do you want to blend in or make waves? You and the world will be happier if you pursue the latter.

This means more than just being the best lever puller and button pusher out there. That impact will not outlive your brief existence.

The key is to zoom out and ask yourself what value you’re striving to add. At the Daily Cal, we seek to provide quality information to our audience. On those busy November days, social media and the Internet accomplished this far better than our traditional print product could. The trick is to determine to what end you’re operating those levers and buttons and find a more efficient path to reach the same goal.

To my fellow graduates, consider the roles you will be filling in the real world and ask yourself what value you are tasked with providing our society. Show up for work and learn the ropes, but always ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and how you can do it better.

To those of you continuing UC Berkeley students, recognize that you have more potential and resources to make your ideas come to fruition than the vast majority of the world, and that now is the best time to make it happen.

In my farewell speech on April 27, I challenged the Daily Cal staff to keep its momentum going and continue innovating to better serve you, our readers. I then turned over my position as editor in chief and president to Stephanie Baer, whose unwavering dedication and sound gut instincts will pull the paper further toward greatness.

As future leaders of our society, we have a hefty responsibility on our shoulders to make the world a better place for future generations. Go out there, challenge assumptions and make a difference. The world will notice faster than ever, and trust me, you’ll have fun.


I owe thanks to:

My family, for their endless support, and for preparing me for life

Rachelle, for always being there for me and putting things in perspective

Matthew Putzulu, for always willing to lend an ear and offer a voice of reason

Raj, for always believing in me and pretending to disagree with me

Matt Wilson, for his remarkable wisdom and guidance, and for making it all worth it

Leslie, for running a smooth operation and being the glue that kept it together

Shweta, for listening to my apocalyptic rants yet never losing hope

Javier, for sticking with me through the wild ride since our reporter days, and for innovating the hell out of the Daily Cal

Will and Bryan, for setting good examples, understanding and supporting me

Zach E.J., Chris Carrassi, Sarah, Mihir, Zach A. and Rachel Gross, for making my experience at the Daily Cal fulfilling, and for being great friends

Reza and Alex, for being there to listen after long days

John and Brad, for their refreshing humor, dedication and pragmatism

Michael Wagner, for his endless supply of optimism

My Haas professors, for a fantastic education, and for making the Daily Cal’s problems seem easy during office hours

The Daily Cal editors and managers, for continually surmounting the seemingly impossible

And most importantly, thank you. The Daily Cal has been by and for students for 141 years. Let’s keep it strong for centuries to come.

Tomer Ovadia was editor in chief and president of The Daily Californian in 2011-12.

MAY 11, 2012