I recently spearheaded the revival of a publication on my college’s campus and became its editor-in-chief, hoping to breathe new life and purpose into a wonderful concept. The digital publication, Black Praxis, strives to centralize the many discussions and perspectives that occur within Black communities on campus by providing an online platform to share them. Our content spans news and commentary on life at Dartmouth and events around the world. It’s also a space to uplift and celebrate Black creative voices on campus. Black Praxis is a work in progress, but it’s growing fast and really establishing its presence after only two terms of being live.
Unlike being a blogger, there’s no blueprint for being an editor-in-chief. There’s no trove of resources and Pinterest boards that I can look to for answers. When I landed on that role at the end of my freshman year of college, I was going in totally blind. A lot of the questions and challenges that have come up along the way I’ve had to navigate on the spot. I can’t google, “What do you do when nobody is answering you in the GroupMe???” or “Why do I have 6 writers but only got 1 article pitch this week???”
While there’s still a lot of room and potential for growth as a leader, I’ve already learned so much since becoming editor-in-chief. I wanted to give you a little bit of insight on the challenges that come with taking on a role like this–lessons that I’m sure the Anna Wintours and Elaine Welteroths of the world had to learn as well. Here are three big things that have marked my journey as editor-in-chief so far.
Fill your team with those who share your vision
*and take that vision very seriously
When I first opened up applications to campus, I didn’t reject anyone. Part of me was scared that nobody would apply if there was a real application process (that pesky fear of failure/imperfection), and part of me believed that something that was supposed to be #forthecommunity shouldn’t be exclusive. I ended up with 20 applicants, which was great. At first.
Slowly, it became apparent that there was a percentage of people who weren’t as passionate about bringing the vision for the publication to life. They eventually fell away. There was also a percentage of people who seemed to start off excited, but—like most Dartmouth students who are overbooked and bad at time management—they are unable to dedicate any time to contributing in a way that’s worthwhile. They can’t be counted on. And this isn’t shade, it’s just facts.
I can now count on my fingers the number of staff members who have been extremely valuable in building this publication up. And I’m not upset at all about that. Now, I’d so much rather have a team of 5 who are down for the cause than a team of 20 who are just here for a title to put on their resumes.
As a creative, delegating can already be stressful. Any project you start is probably your baby, and you’ll want every task to be carried out exactly the way you imagined. That’s why it’s hard to leave that work up to other people. Your life as a creative leader, as editor-in-chief, will be made that much harder when you don’t have a team of like-minded people.
I’ve had to reframe my mindset from “exclusive” to “curated”. Yes, the purpose of the publication is to serve the Black student body on my campus. But it became apparent that I can’t do that effectively if I accept any and everybody whether or not they share that goal or can be an asset to the team. Your team should be highly curated. Your vision should be so precious to you and taken so seriously that you would never allow just anybody to be able to influence it. Be ready and willing to ask for help, but only from people you know can provide it.
A good leader is many things, but perfect is not one of them
Like I said earlier, there’s no blueprint to this whole editor-in-chief thing. Almost every situation that arises is unique, and you pretty much just make things up as you go. While I think of myself as a natural leader, I’ve never been in a position with this amount of responsibility and pressure before. My definition of what makes a good leader has developed so much since taking on this role.
In the back of my mind, I thought that being a good leader, especially at an Ivy League institution, meant being perfect. Everything should go off without a hitch. Efforts should be seamless. I would probably never say that out loud because everyone knows you can’t be perfect, duh. But I could tell that I was putting that immense pressure on myself when little mistakes weighed on my mind for days. I would become insecure, thinking that maybe I wasn’t cut out for this role because I didn’t immediately have the answer to a staff member’s question or I mixed something up and realized my mistake too late. I have witnessed the way students at my school can tear apart and criticize leaders of communities when they don’t measure up to constantly evolving standards.
Sometimes little blunders that are my fault still bother me, but more recently I’ve been celebrating the other qualities of leadership that have emerged since I became editor-in-chief. I pride myself in being flexible and understanding. I try to be as available and responsive as possible to all of my staff members (even when I’m on my off-term and 500 miles away). I put a lot of thought into creating opportunities for staff members to get involved and contribute their unique creative voices. When I do make a mistake, I will always be the first to admit it and try to provide solutions to fix it. I think there are a lot more important things that you can be as a leader other than “perfect”. I’m focused on discovering and developing those characteristics more than I’m worried about not being perfect.
If you want to actually get something done…
I’m still learning how to get people to do things. Sometimes I can be a little too nice, and that can lead to a lot of unfulfilled tasks. I’m probably going to have to abandon that cute, laid-back attitude if I want to get things done next term.
Look them in the eye
Online messages are just so…ignore-able. Be pushy. Set up face-to-face meetings as much as possible so you can look. them. in. the. eye. Don’t pretend like all is well when you see the person who ignored your text about a deadline on the sidewalk. You don’t even have to be rude, but don’t be so afraid to bring the topic up. For some reason, people crumble when they actually have to own up to their b.s. in person.
Bystander effect is real
At one point or another, you’ve probably heard the psychological term “bystander effect”. It’s a “social psychological phenomenon” where the more people there are in a group, the less likely any one person is to act when a situation calls for it. Everyone freezes because everyone assumes that the other person is going to do something. If you send out a general request for contributions or answers in the gm, don’t take it personally when you get crickets. You’re better off going to people individually if you really need to get something done. Nobody secretly hates you, people are just passive af.
Do it yourself
When you’re the editor-in-chief but you’re also the overall leader and guiding force of a publication, a lot of tasks end up falling on your shoulders whether or not it fits your “job” description. Sometimes your last resort is yourself. There will be a lot of late nights spent doing the work that someone else should be doing. But that’s okay, because at least it will be done how you want!
Despite all this, having the opportunity to leave my personal mark on campus and get hands-on experience in the creative field I hope to be in for a career has been extremely rewarding. My heart skips a beat every time I get e-mails and texts that show how much they appreciate the work we’re doing. It encourages me to keep going and to really strive for all that Black Praxis and I can be. If you’re considering a career in media and content creation, I highly encourage you to join a publication at your school or start one yourself. I think college is the best low-risk environment to try these things out and gain wisdom and knowledge that will prepare you for the future.