There was a moment early last spring that encapsulated why I love Spectator. It was our first on-the-record meeting with Kevin Shollenberger—me, managing editor Michele Cleary, news editors Leah Greenbaum and Sarah Darville, maybe a reporter or two, and the whole senior team from Student Affairs around a big conference table in Lerner one Tuesday morning. Since the news team asked most of the questions, I was mainly focused on fighting my acute sleep deprivation when Shollenberger turned to us and asked, “So, what are you working on?”
For a terrifying moment, I struggled to come up with an answer. I could have talked about big paper-wide initiatives, like increasing our multimedia output and starting a digital preservation project. I could have mentioned some of the big stories we were thinking about, like construction starting in Manhattanville or the then-pitched battle to bring ROTC back to Columbia. But on an average Tuesday morning, what I was most worried about was what the hell the next day’s paper was going to look like.
Like the hundred or so editors in chief before me, I came into the job with some big ideas about how to reshape the organization before I left the office. I quickly discovered that I would spend most of my time thinking about how to finish tomorrow’s paper, and most nights, the paper left the office before I did.
All things told, that’s probably for the best. A community as complex as Columbia deserves a newspaper committed to making things better and not worse. That will only happen when sensitive issues are addressed with thorough journalism, thoughtful commentary, and incisive presentation—which come from focused attention to all the details, not necessarily sweeping overhauls. So I’m glad that I did whatever little I could to make the paper better, not with giant changes, but every day. And as it happened, we managed to move the ball on some of the big things, too.
It will come as a surprise to no one, however, that nearly all of the good work done at Spectator last year was done by some very smart and dedicated people who were not me. There are far too many such people to list, and not nearly enough space to do so. (Dan, Ellen, and April, you would be very high up on that list.) That being said, two people deserve special mention.
The first is Michele Cleary. Before becoming managing editor, Michele had worked at Spectator for three years, putting in night after night, eventually running the sports section entirely by herself, practically with one hand tied behind her back. Imagine being in her position and learning that you’d have to share the duties of leading the paper with a know-nothing jackass who’d run for editor in chief on a lark.
A lesser person—less dedicated, less patient, less generous of her own time and sanity—would have resigned in disgust. Michele didn’t. She stuck around, presumably to make sure said jackass didn’t screw things up too badly, and to show him the many, many ropes of which he was then ignorant. She’s been the best partner an editor could ask for, not to mention a talented co-author and a great friend. There’s no one with whom I’d rather share a masthead, a foxhole, or a byline.
The second person to acknowledge is—well, I have to admit that I might not know his or her name. Spectator’s staff, depending on how you count it, numbers between three and five hundred, and I didn’t get to know nearly enough of those talented people in my time as editor. But every single one of them, whether a designer or an event planner or a copy editor or a first-time reporter, invested her late hours, his happiness, or sometimes even her reputation in keeping Spectator moving forward, often for very little recognition at all. Let me take this closing opportunity to say thank you. Even when you go insufficiently acknowledged, my fellow editors and I appreciate the work you do more deeply than we can say.
Because to me, Spectator is not just a newspaper or a blog or a place near campus. It’s a daily campaign—to get the story right, to present the issues fairly, to capture the mood of campus, and, more than anything, to get the damn thing done. Spending my time around hundreds of people, united by that common purpose, was a true privilege. Sharing an office with them, even for a short time, was an unexpected joy.
To be honest, I don’t remember what I said in response to Dean Shollenberger’s question that Tuesday morning. It’s altogether possible that someone else started talking, saving me from having to decide. But here’s why I love Spectator: What I wanted to say at that moment was, we’re working on tomorrow.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in history and political science. He was editor in chief on the 135th corporate board, a member of the editorial board, and an opinion columnist.