‘A light in the newsroom’: Former Daily editor dies in crash

Olivia Johnson, a journalist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2018, died Saturday.

Former Minnesota Daily desk editor Olivia Johnson, 22, died in a car crash Saturday.

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Former Minnesota Daily desk editor Olivia Johnson, 22, died in a car crash Saturday.

Michelle Griffith

She always had a smile on her face, even when working long hours “in the trenches” of a student newspaper, ensuring stories were the best they could be.

Former Minnesota Daily Desk Editor and University of Minnesota alumna Olivia Johnson, 22, died on Dec. 28 in a car crash in northwestern Wisconsin. Johnson was in a car with University alumna Micaela Scheider, 22, when Scheider lost control of the vehicle and it crossed into the path of a semitrailer truck near Grantsburg, Wisconsin, the Star Tribune reported. 

For those that knew her and worked with her, Johnson was a budding journalist whose death came as a shock.

“She brought pretty much nothing but joy to the job everyday,” said Ryan Faircloth, a former Daily editor who worked closely with Johnson. “She was very well-respected.”

Johnson was hired as a Daily reporter in 2015. She assumed the campus activities editor position in fall 2017, overseeing multiple reporters and assisting them with their stories. 

Johnson also held intern reporting positions at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, among other news organizations. Most recently, she was a reporter for News & Advance, a news service based in Virginia. 

“Olivia was passionate in all she did and even though her time on this earth was cut short,” an obituary drafted by her parents states.

Although it’s customary for reporters to inquire about peoples’ lives, Johnson was curious beyond her profession and genuinely cared about others.  

“She really was able to work well as a manager and still have fun and do her job well, which is really not easy to do,” said Mike Hendrickson, former editor in chief of the Daily who oversaw Johnson and other editors.

Many beginning reporters at the Daily have little journalism experience and often rely on the guidance of their editor, which Johnson happily shared with her reporters. 

For current Daily Managing Editor Max Chao, he said he remembers Johnson as a talented, kind person.

When Chao just started at the Daily as a freshman, he attended a Board of Regents meeting, not knowing much about what a Board of Regents meeting was. Johnson, who also attended the meeting, came up to him and introduced herself, which Chao said was reassuring and helpful. 

“She took time out of her day to show this clueless freshman what to do,” Chao said, adding that helping others was just inherently part of her character.