“I’m already late for work, Dana!”
“It’ll take like five seconds, I promise!”
Butler University Collegian reporter Dana Lee pauses from reading her column-in-progress over the phone to her mother — a palliative care nurse in a northern suburb of Chicago who is, indeed, late for work.
Yes, the Collegian’s now-editor-in-chief and former ESPN and Indianapolis Star intern really does read (almost) every story she writes to her mom — who’s often cooking dinner in her kitchen 200 miles away.
Talking through her ideas helps her conquer writer’s block, Lee says.
The 21-year-old senior journalism major calls her parents at least once a week — but usually many times more. She called her dad before the first interview she did for the Indianapolis Star. During her freshman year when she was overwhelmed by Carmel, IN’s roundabouts. After she asked a security guard at Madison Square Garden to film her while covering the 2018 Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament in New York City for the Collegian. Her dad’s reaction? “I can’t believe you did that!”
Lee has written for ESPN, hobnobbed with celebrities (Bill Nye!), and embedded herself in former Butler basketball player Kelan Martin’s kitchen, but just try and tell her story without bringing up her parents (“They’ve read every story I’ve ever written”) and her two younger siblings, Jessica and Michael, who also attend Butler.
A Butler Family Lee-gacy
When Jessica Lee was weighing the pros and cons of attending Butler, her sister, Dana, landed squarely on the cons side.
“Which I didn’t know until halfway through my freshman year,” says Dana.
But Jessica, a junior Political Science and Strategic Communication double major, says that, without Dana, Butler likely wouldn’t have been on her radar. And, in the end, Butler’s internship opportunities, proximity to a big city, and beautiful campus proved too difficult to ignore.
Despite her older sister’s presence.
“I certainly had reservations about attending the same school as Dana,” Jessica, who’s a year younger than Dana, says. “Not because we aren’t close, but because I wanted my college experience to be my own.”
But Jessica says attending the same school as her siblings does come with perks; namely, Butler-themed inside jokes.
“It’s like speaking our own language. Like, ‘Have you seen Holcomb Gardens yet?’” Jessica says. “‘The leaves are turning and it looks BU-tiful.’”
While the siblings aren’t roommates, they live close enough together to walk to one another’s residences. Jessica and Dana lived in the same residence hall Jessica’s freshman year.
“It was nice having her closet nearby!” says Jessica.
Dana says she, Jessica, and Michael have always gotten along because they “didn’t have any other option.”
“Growing up, my parents would sit us on the staircase until someone gave someone else a hug,” Dana says. “We genuinely enjoy each other’s company.”
Michael, a freshman Digital Media Production major, says the siblings haven’t yet been on campus during the same semester.
Jessica is the culprit. She’s interning with the Democratic National Committee in Washington D.C. this semester, completed an internship with the European Union in Belgium last summer, and studied abroad in Germany last spring.
But even nearly 600 miles apart, the Lees are on the same wavelength.
Now the trio write for the Butler Collegian, Butler’s student newspaper. Dana is the editor-in-chief, Jessica is a co-news editor, and Michael is on the multimedia team. While Jessica says there’s no sibling rivalry, in the same breath, she contradicts herself.
“When Dana was the sports editor and I was the co-news editor, we would compete to see which section got the most clicks online,” Jessica says. “I most definitely won.”
But the siblings don’t share everything. When Michael committed to Butler last December, Dana and Jessica found out when he posted his decision on Instagram.
“So basically almost 500 people knew before I did,” Dana says. “Classic.”
A Sports Journalist in the Making
Though all the Lees played sports, it was Dana who was the family fanatic.
Mike Lee was a high school varsity baseball coach, so his daughter rode alongside him as he dragged baseball fields on a tractor, and wore his team’s uniform in the dugout during games.
Dana’s thirst for all things news — not just sports — was insatiable. In eighth grade, she wrote a persuasive essay petitioning her parents for an iPhone so she could read the The New York Times online before school (spoiler alert: she got it).
“My parents thought I was crazy,” she says, but it was this fanaticism that has made Dana successful as a student and a budding journalist
It’s a love she’s carried with her to college. Case in point: if inflating 500 basketballs in four hours would get her to ESPN, Dana Lee was going to do it.
Her first internship with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky the summer before her sophomore year was decidedly non-glamorous: As an unpaid community relations intern, she did the grunt work for the franchise. Including inflating all those basketballs.
“That was the lowest point of my internship,” she says.
Of the nearly 20 internships she applied for, Lee says the Sky position was the best offer she got.
Fast forward a year, and Lee had the opposite problem: too many opportunities.
Her offers: an Indianapolis Colts Media Operations internship, an Indianapolis Star reporting fellowship, a promotion to Butler Collegian sports editor . . .
So which one did she pick?
All of them.
Oh, and she also took 20 credit hours of classes that fall.
“Junior year was a nightmare,” Lee says. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
She put in 16 hours per week at The Star as an “Our Children” fellow, examining opioid addiction and spotlighting nonprofit success stories in her quest to find and tell the overlooked stories of Indianapolis kids. She spent Sundays at Lucas Oil Stadium, helping set up the press box before Colts home games and transcribing coach and player interviews. She coordinated the Collegian’s sports coverage whenever she had a free moment. She slept very little.
“It was a terrible idea to intern two different places,” Lee says. “I’d never, ever do it again, but it was a great time.”
Don’t Look Over Her Shoulder in Class
You may be wondering, at this point, about Dana’s social life.
Two of her friends, Butler Collegian Digital Managing Editor Zach Horrall and Managing Editor Marisa Miller, both seniors, shed some light.
The last time they hung out?
Last Saturday night, when the evening’s agenda included Lee creating a class schedule for next semester.
“When we hang out, it’s basically low-key work,” says Horrall.
Lee’s been involved with the Collegian every semester, first as a sports reporter her freshman and sophomore years, then as a sports editor last year, and now as editor-in-chief, which means she’s grown to love staying up until 2:00 AM on weeknights before tests. Not because she’s cramming — because she’s designing and editing stories at the Collegian office.
The print edition of the weekly Collegian publishes on Wednesdays, and Lee must read every story that ends up in print and online before the page designers can go to work.
And, of course, reporters being reporters, much of the copy comes in just before the deadline.
“I try to start reading between classes on Tuesday,” Lee says. “I probably read more stories in class than I’d like to admit. I try to have all the stories read by 10:30 PM, but if I finish by 9:30 PM, we’re in really good shape.”
After arriving at the office around 7:00 PM, the rest of her night is spent helping the designers and dealing with any snafus. Typically around 2:00 AM — but sometimes as late (or early?) as 5:00 AM — she’ll head home to catch a few hours of sleep before her Wednesday morning classes.
“My dad asks me all the time ‘Why are you doing this?’” Lee says. “I went from thinking my sister was crazy when she’d stay late working on our high school paper to being that person.”
But she says editing the Collegian doesn’t feel like work.
“It’s so nice to be immersed in something I want to do after graduation,” she says.
A “Hail Mary” Internship
You’d never know it if you came across Lee in the newsroom, but she’s an introvert. Her parents are still in disbelief that she wants to talk to people for a living, she says.
But she says her Collegian experiences have forced her out of her shell, from interviewing Butler men’s basketball’s second all-time leading scorer, Kelan Martin, as he fried up a dozen slices of turkey bacon in his kitchen, to enlisting a Madison Square Garden security guard as her cameraman during the 2018 Big East tournament in New York City.
“Freshman me never would’ve done that; not in a million years,” she says.
At the end of her junior year, she decided it was time for a hail mary — and applied for a summer internship at ESPN.
She got it.
She and 50 other interns spent 10 weeks in Bristol, Connecticut (where ESPN is headquartered), New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. this summer with the country’s foremost sports network.
She filmed Bill Nye demonstrating the physics behind a line drive. She covered the 2018 MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. She shadowed SportsCenter newscasters Keith Olbermann and Chris Berman. She got a shout-out from ESPN sportswriter Seth Wickersham on Twitter.
But, true to form, Miller says the newly minted Collegian editor-in-chief still worked on the paper from Bristol.
“Even during her 40 hour-a-week internship, she was still updating our spreadsheets and planning guest speakers for the semester,” says Miller.
“She’s Very Talented, But She Doesn’t Always See It”
Every one of her friends, editors, and professors will tell you: Detail is to Lee what a lightsaber is to a Jedi.
She has a spreadsheet to keep track of every Chicago restaurant she’s eaten at, and those she wants to visit, with detailed notes about each, says Horrall. She interviewed Indianapolis Indians President and 1954 Butler graduate Max Schumacher for four hours just because she was curious. She filmed a standup shot at Hinkle Fieldhouse after the first Butler basketball game she covered 16 times to get it exactly right (Miller stood there until 11:00 PM holding the camera).
“I wish I had even 10 percent of her attention to detail,” Horrall says. “She homes in on things I’d never notice.”
She’ll Google restaurant names in Collegian stories to make sure ‘Bazbeaux’ doesn’t have an ‘s’ on the end of it, Horrall says, or check to make sure a movie theater really is in Carmel and not Indianapolis.
Nancy Whitmore, who’s taught journalism at Butler for 18 years, says Lee’s observational skills often surpass those of professional journalists.
“The insight and interpretation she brings to her reporting far exceeds her age,” says Whitmore.
Jessica Lee says her sister’s articles are an extension of her personality.
“Dana’s able to write these stories because she sits down with her yellow legal pad and blue pen and computer and she steps into [her interviewee’s] shoes,” she says.
Yet Lee doesn’t realize what she does is in any way out of the ordinary, says Horrall.
“She is very talented, but she doesn’t always see it,” he says. “Sometimes she thinks she’s gotten lucky, but she’s just really good at what she does.”
Her Parents Might Want to Look Into a Long-Distance Phone Plan
Her sister’s been to Belgium; her brother Cambodia. But outside of a two-week trip to Spain in high school, Dana Lee hasn’t left the country.
She wanted to spend a semester abroad last year, but as the Collegian’s sports editor, she couldn’t afford to leave Butler in the middle of basketball season.
But after graduation, she says, all bets are off.
“I’m looking at journalism fellowships abroad, particularly South Africa,” she says. “It’d be really interesting to look at the country post-apartheid.”
But one thing won’t change anytime soon.
“Jessica and Michael will always be my best friends,” she says.