By Tony Biasotti
Darrin Peschka, MPPA ’18, hadn’t been in the Ventura County Star newsroom long before she thought she might like to run the place. She was hired as a copy editor in 2002, a couple of years out of college, and had a “what do you want to be when you grow up?” conversation with a former editor of the paper.
“I said, ‘I want your seat. I want your office. I would say it’s been a goal of mine for a long time.’”
Her office and her chair aren’t exactly the same as that former editor’s. Last year, the Star moved to a new office on Daily Drive in Camarillo, just across Highway 101. Peschka is the news director, a title equivalent to “editor,” which means she runs the 20-person newsroom. She’s the second newsroom leader in a row to hold an advanced degree in public policy from Cal Lutheran.
Peschka, 41, is from Wilson, Kansas, a town in the middle of the state with a population today of around 700. Her grandparents were farmers, but her parents were both “town kids.” She never wanted to do anything but journalism.
“My parents got two newspapers every day: the Salina Journal and the Wichita Eagle, plus we had a weekly paper in Wilson and we had that, too,” she said. “I’ve been reading newspapers since I could read.”
She studied journalism in high school and at the University of Kansas, where she worked for two years on the copy desk. “I was a reporter for one summer, but editing has always been more to my interest,” she said.
After college, she went to work as a reporter for the nearby Ottawa Herald, which was then one of the last of its kind: an afternoon newspaper. “I’d go to the county commission meetings in the morning, go to the newsroom, write up a quick story and it would be in the afternoon paper that day,” Peschka said.
Over 15 years at the Star, she’s been the wire news editor, a supervisor on the copy desk, community news editor, business editor and city editor, and discovered a knack for management. When John Moore ’01, MPPA ’03, retired in March 2017, she became the first woman to run the newsroom in its 94-year history. (Some of her peers at Gannett newspapers are women, including both the editor and the publisher of the chain’s flagship, USA Today.)
As a student in the Master of Public Policy and Administration program, Peschka had two goals: to learn how policy is made and to become a better leader.
“I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, you’re not using your master’s degree,’ but I think I am using my master’s degree,” she said. “I use it every day, as the leader of an organization.”
Tony Biasotti worked for the Star as a reporter from 2005 to 2010, and has occasionally freelanced for it since 2011.