Laura Smith is the new Deputy Editor of California, the award-winning publication of the Cal Alumni Association (CAA).
Since joining the team in June, Smith has assigned, edited, and written several stories for the magazine, including the Fall 2019 cover story about former Cal middle distance runner and Olympian Alysia Montaño ’08, who publicly called out her shoe sponsors for treating her pregnancy like an injury.
“As a new mom who had to take unpaid maternity leave at a previous job, this story really hit close to home,” says Smith.
Prior to joining California, Smith was managing editor of Timeline, a San Francisco-based history publication offering context on the news. She originally came to the Bay Area for the Ben Bagdikian fellowship at Mother Jones. Before that, she was a freelancer for several years, which gave her the opportunity to live and travel in Southeast Asia and Mexico, and to write for publications such as the New York Times, the Guardian, Slate, and The Atlantic. She is also the author of the nonfiction book, The Art of Vanishing (Penguin/Viking, 2018).
“There are still a million stories coming out of Berkeley, but having the campus as our lens helps us refine our vision.”
Smith graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in English literature and New York University with a master’s in journalism. She didn’t attend Berkeley, but wished she had, even going so far as to start a transfer application while in her first year at UVA after being horrified at the sight of women wearing pearls and sundresses at a football game. (Alas, she met the man who would become her husband and was stuck there for the next three years). Now she considers working at CAA and living near the campus to be a nice consolation.
She says her editing style has evolved with experience. “I realized one day that I was editing everyone’s voice to be like my own. If it wasn’t the word I would have used, I cut it and replaced it, even if it was technically correct. Now I try to bring out the writer’s own voice, and highlight the things that excite them.”
“Laura’s a pleasure and an inspiration to work with,” says California Editor-in-Chief Pat Joseph, who values his new colleague’s gumption and fearlessness. “She’s not afraid to take on new projects, whether it’s launching a podcast or debate series or redesigning the website—she just jumps in with both feet. I expect her to help lead the magazine into new territory and to do it with style.”
Of her transition to an alumni magazine, Smith says, “The problem with most general interest magazines is that everything falls into that category, so it can be paralyzing when trying to decide what stories to cover. Working at California provides more focus. There are still a million stories coming out of Berkeley, but having the campus as our lens helps us refine our vision.”
Her goal for the magazine is to engage readers on a visceral and intellectual level. “When I’m reading something really good it makes me want to grab the person next to me and say, ‘Did you know this?’ I hope our readers will do that when they read California. That’s our job, to surprise and enlighten.”