Profile: Mark Witherspoon, editorial advisor for the Iowa State Daily

Iowa State Daily Editorial Adviser Mark Witherspoon. Photo courtesy Iowa State Media Group.

With an inviting and warm Texan accent and a spoon inked on his forearm, Mark Witherspoon, the editorial advisor for the Iowa State Daily, is one of those rare personalities where rapport is easily found. 

After any conversation with Spoon, a name he is commonly referred to by his young Daily reporters, you suddenly feel an extra kick of warmth. His colorful personality and thoughtfulness can only give you a smile. 

Before landing with the ISU Daily, Spoon was a reporter and eventual editor for the Wichita Falls Record News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas. In 1987 he transitioned into advising college newspapers in Fort Worth at Texas Christian University. After TCU, he then travelled to Dallas to help out Southern Methodist University in the same role. 

In 1999, Spoon started at Iowa State. Having helped countless students become better writers and reporters, Spoon has also seen the countless blunders and mistakes young journalists have made over the years. Through the goods and the bads, it is fair to say Spoon knows the blueprint on how to excel as a journalist. 

What advice would you give a young journalist?

Spoon says accuracy is important for aspiring journalists: “And when you do make mistakes, make sure you let people know that. You have to be the most honest person in the room.

He adds,“The most important thing you do as a reporter is to build sources, which is essentially developing healthy relationships with people. Those people will trust you and tell you things that they won’t tell anybody else.”

When students that get onto their first beat, it is fear, not their writing talent, that Spoon sees as their most imminent obstacle. Whether it is fear of making a mistake or fear of getting rejected, fear is the culprit that hinders a student’s ability to succeed.

It is not an easy thing to overcome. Spoon says he even faced it himself, as he did not start writing for his college newspaper until his second semester of his junior year at University of Texas at Austin. 

If you overcome this false sense of fear, you have overcome one of the largest obstacles any aspiring journalist faces, says Spoon. 

The First Amendment

Though he humbly downplayed the term “expert” with the First amendment when I first opened the interview, it is fair to say Spoon knows his stuff when it comes to the law. 

While working toward his master’s degree, Spoon focused on the First Amendment; he’s continued this theme at ISU, helping to create the “First Things First” programs, a two-part initiative that helps instructors become First Amendment supporters and help spread the appreciation of the law. 

He is also the founder of First Amendment Day at Iowa State. Starting in 2003, Iowa State has had the longest running annual First Amendment celebration of any college campus. 

But the discussion has certainly changed around the First Amendment since 2003. 

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat have sparked discussion about free speech on social media. Issues like social injustice, the fight for women’s rights and LGBTQ rights have made it to the mainstream with the help of social media and the First Amendment. However, the same could be said for hate speech. 

“You didn’t have as many conversations about hate speech. That was the big thing. I mean, compared to now, people are actually talking about limiting the First Amendment because of hate speech. ‘You hurt my feelings.’”

Spoon’s response was as expected: authentic, real and he just tells it like it is. He says to check your feelings. Even though we want to stop the spread of conspiracy theories and evil, they have to pass through the cracks as it is for the good and integrity of the First Amendment Spoon said.  

“I’m sorry, if you get your feelings hurt, I hope you would educate yourself. You got to realize that you can use the First Amendment to make your points, to make your arguments. Don’t get your feelings hurt. I mean, if you do, fine, but get over it, and use the First Amendment to speak a symbol. Deal with it by writing letters to your editor or go work for the Daily.”

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