Opinion | Op-eds

Senior Column: Why I care

I first wandered into the Spectator office for an orientation-week open house unsure of what I wanted to do on the paper. I worked up the nerve to say hello to then-editor-in-chief John Davisson and to ask, only half-kidding, what I ought to do if I wanted to be EIC myself one day. He responded that I’d have to be crazy.

It was Amanda Sebba, managing editor now three years back, who saw straight through my initial doubts about throwing myself into the paper the way I had in high school. She pushed me to take on a deputy’s role midway through the fall of my sophomore year, and then to run for a seat on the managing board as design editor. It was all over then, really—after a series of exhilarating all-night layout binges to get through our first week in January, I’d essentially made up my mind to run for a leadership role come year’s end.

I could spill thousands of words on our year at the helm, rehashing titanic battles with administrators and intense staff meetings spent debating the future of the institution. People ask questions about those things, sometimes. But usually they want to know why it is I cared enough to spend the ungodly hours required to do what was more than a full-time job, and to suffer the unhealthy levels of stress that come with the responsibility of running an independent daily newspaper—a grown-up’s responsibility in the hands of a college student.

Watching dozens of kids pouring in and out of the office every day while working tirelessly to make Spec shine generated a sort of infectious energy that never failed to inspire me. I wanted to push them all to strive for the very highest quality of work, and to do that I felt that I had to set the kind of example that would encourage that sort of effort. The special part of this job was feeling as though I could really make an impact on all of the people who walked through the door—that if I served as a positive influence by acting with professionalism and integrity and all the other qualities I thought important in a leader, then they too would be inspired to act accordingly and to pass those lessons on to the students that would come after them.

Joe DiMaggio once said that there was always some kid who was watching him for the first time, and so he always owed that kid his best. (Joe then went back to wishing he could hit like Ted Williams. Go Red Sox!) I never knew when a first-year staffer was going to turn around to watch the way the editor operated. So I wanted to do it right all the time—I couldn’t bear the idea that anybody who dealt with me would ever think that Spectator strove for anything less than the most upstanding and conscientious approach, so I didn’t really see any other way to do it.

When we hit a rough patch and I wanted nothing more than to check out for a little while or head home early, I thought back to my own days as a young staff member and the way I had watched how the EIC handled himself. I remembered that somewhere out in the office was the kid who was going to run for my job at the end of the year, and the year after that, and the year after that. And for those kids, if for nobody else, I wanted to make absolutely sure that the example I set was everything it could be. I wanted them to believe that there was a right way to do the job, and that having the job meant having a responsibility to follow that path.

I talked to alums a lot, peppering them for advice. I wondered if they understood just how closely I hung on every word, how much I’d studied their own accomplishments. Most of them had come to realize, looking back, that Spectator was not, in fact, the most important thing in the world, regardless of whether those of us who come to reside there treat it as such.

The thing is, it always will be for somebody. And in some cases, that kid might not realize it yet—it might take prodding to get him to see that capacity inside himself, as it did for me. But when that realization comes, and that kid thinks back on the way each of his predecessors did the job, I want him to remember the best of me. And so I worked and worked and never allowed myself to be satisfied because I never wanted to wonder, looking back, if there was more I could have done if only I’d tried a little bit harder.

And boy, do I miss it—the most ridiculous things, too. I miss more than anything the irrationally angry gchat vent sessions with incomparable managing editor Thomas Rhiel, joking about blood pouring out of the eyes over idiotic typos in blog posts all while knowing how much we both finally—finally—wanted to get everything just right. Knowing there was someone sitting next to me, night after night, who was going to keep on killing himself in pursuit of that goal—there was just no way I could bear to do any less.

At our final, tear-stained meeting on the last night of production in December, I told the managing board that I wanted to hold on tight to this year because I worried I might never have it so good again. I thought I’d let it go a little bit at the beginning of this semester, but now I’m writing this and realizing that my old desk is as close to being that of my successor’s successor as it is to being mine. I’m remembering the energy that rushed through me night after night and I’m wishing for one more week, because once I’m gone I can’t imagine how I’ll ever summon up such passion again.

When friends would ask how things were going during this last semester of supposed freedom, my common refrain was that I wasn’t quite sure who I was anymore, or what I was really doing. I knew who I was at Spectator, and at the end of every day (well into the next day, usually), I went to bed with the feeling that I’d really done something. No, I don’t know when I’ll have that feeling again. But I think, at least, that I have some idea now of what it takes to get there.

Perhaps someone will read this some years in the future while mulling over running for this job. To that kid—don’t hesitate to get in touch. For you, I’ll have all the time in the world. If you’re just looking for reassurance that this job is worth it, though, I suppose I can save you the trouble. It was worth every second.

The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He was deputy production editor on the 132nd deputy board, design editor on the 133rd managing board, and editor in chief on the 134th corporate board.


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