Everyone is a chickadee, a darlin’, a kiddo. I may only be 21, but I refer to everyone I’ve ever had the pleasure to lead like I’m their 82-year-old grandmother.
In my time as design editor on the 140th managing board, I’ve discovered that people often underestimate the power of love in leadership. Obviously, there is so much value in pushing your staff through difficult goals, setting hard boundaries, and occasionally having to bring down the gavel. But if this is your only approach as a leader, you’re missing the bigger picture.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen this be the case in a lot of Spectator. We’ve all experienced it—telling people I work at Spec is often met with tense shoulders and questions about working at a place that is ‘cutthroat’ and ‘evil,’ where people ‘spend so much time doing things that no one cares about.’ Now, I will say that there is some truth to those statements. I’ve definitely seen more sunrises than I needed to, and to be honest, I’ve seen some shady stuff fly by under the radar at Spectator, making me question some morals. But that wasn’t the Spec I was raised in.
My Spec upbringing has always been filled by an encouragement of community, of a push to create a healthy, creative environment dedicated to exploring passions. The majority of Design isn’t drawn by professional journalistic (or even artistic) goals. Instead, they come to Spectator because they want to find an avenue for their creativity, to develop their skills in a community of like-minded creative thinkers.
Before I was editor, I had the benefit of working under three incredibly strong and compassionate women who embodied this sense of community, who cared about improving the institution not only through journalism, but also through its people as well. They knew that a simple tradition of cookies and beer on Tuesday nights would encourage people to stay in the office way past the completion of their layout, or that simply sharing a weekly obsession would generate lots of “omgs” and “me toos!” The Design I was raised in, and hopefully perpetuated, was one where people felt like they were always learning, and always felt a sense of respect and belonging.
Now, filling these shoes was scary. It’s a lot to ask from a little sophomore who has only just learned how to do print and will be the first solo design editor in a long time. When I began my tenure, I was so afraid that I wouldn’t know the answer to everything (I still don’t know how the knife tool on Illustrator works). But I quickly realized that was okay, because the people on my staff were so incredibly talented and capable, that it was just as much my job to learn from them as it was for them to learn from me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “I love you” to my designers, deputies, and illustrators when they handed in something incredible and showed me just how much I had left to learn (which happened most of the time). I was so lucky to be surrounded by people who were not only passionate about what they did, but who also came from such vastly different backgrounds. They were math majors who can make some kickass illustrations, sports junkies who needed you to know from where Maodo Lô shot on a map, simultaneously Solange and Zootopia fans, beer enthusiasts, data junkies, font aficionados, and so many more personalities, who brought their unique perspectives both to their work and the environment at Spec.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s okay to not know everything. Cede some power, realize that the environment you’re spending time in isn’t only crafted by your hand. Yes, you’re a leader, but you’re supposed to be learning too. Respect the voices and opinions of the ones around you, even if they hold a lower title in this (sometimes arbitrary) structure of Spectator. Don’t only pay attention to the ‘pillars’ you think define journalism. Realize that every section at Spec brings its own perspective and its own value to the paper, and you can learn so much from them. You will never know everything on your own, but collectively as an institution, you all can.
So, telling people that I love them is my way of saying I am inspired. Spec is supposed to be a place of learning, but not only from the top down. There are so many incredibly talented voices at that paper, and we need to remember that they are what makes Spectator as a community shine.
All the De$ignLove in the world to all the future chickadees. Keep inspiring.
Okay, so I’ve shared a lot of love in this already, but there’s always so much more to be given.
To Emma, Jenna, and Alanna: Thank you for showing me that venti iced coffees are the only way to survive, for being my mom and putting me in cabs (and to bed) when I need it, and for corroborating on the beauty of Nick Jonas with me in The ’dam (rip). But more importantly, thank you all for teaching me what De$ignLove is about (and also for pushing me to believe in print journalism!!!!!)
To my sweet Amanda, thank you for helping me practice Russian at 4 a.m. and for always remembering to fix my slugs when I forgot to change them. You were my saving grace as editor, and you have been pushing Spec Design to new standards of excellence since day one.
Diane and Cheryl, clearly y’all have a lot of big shoes to fill. But I have no doubt in my mind that you embody the necessary love, personality, and skill to make Design better than ever. Keep up the good work my bb girls.
Chris, thanks for bringing me brothy Westside soups and some of the best advice, both necessary in hard times.
To MB 141, thanks for pushing for transparency, and for using your voices when mine was taken away.
To my suitemates and non-Speccie friends, thanks for keeping quiet on Thursday afternoons while I slept, for brushing your teeth next to me (both to music and when I was going to sleep as you awoke), and for not forgetting about me even when half of my texts were “still at spec sorry.”
Of course, so many thanks to BRAD—Ben, Rachit, (me), Dan. The great trio of big brothers. You’re some of the smartest men I’ve ever met that I’ve learned so much from even just your stupid banter. Thanks to each of you for dealing with my drunk 3 a.m. self, for always being there to give advice, and for giving me treasured screenshots of horse divorce, collabs with Eminem, and unmentionable uses of Snapchat filters. You’ve fostered some of my best memories at Spec, and though there is a nonzero chance that the physical Spec baby is gone forever, you will forever be the Spec babies of my heart.
Finally, thank you to my incredible staff of deputies, designers, and illustrators whom I had the pleasure of leading. Thanks for making me cry happy tears of joy whenever a graphic or illustration was uploaded to Trello. As I hope I’ve made clear, you’ve all made such an impact on me with your incredible talent and dedication. Though times weren’t always perfect, I, to this day, remain in incredulity of your beauty. Thank you so much, from the deepest, deepest depths of my heart.
Anna Alonso is a senior in Columbia College studying linguistics. She was the news graphics deputy editor for the 139th volume, the design editor for the 140th volume, and the lead product designer for the 141st volume.
Senior columns are pieces in which members of Spectator’s graduating class reflect on what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown from their time at the organization, and are part of Spectator’s 2018 Commencement Issue. To respond to this senior column, or to submit an op-ed, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.