Being a student editor was hands down the best thing I’ve ever done. I applied for the job thinking I was wildly under qualified yet somehow managed to convince Dan and Joe, my predecessors, to hand over the keys to the Concrete kingdom and leave the newspaper in my (slightly shaking) hands.
The year was a whirlwind of issues (both physical newspaper issues and emotional drama) and before I knew it I was handing over my beloved paper to someone else. I learnt a lot, cried a lot, and found myself a job as a reporter at a proper newspaper thanks to my time in student media.
So here’s some tidbits I learnt from my time at the helm – feel free to ignore it (I probably would have).
Trust your gut
People are always going to disagree with you. Shock horror – people might even think your ideas are ridiculous. I’ll never forget the battle I had with my two deputies, Jess and Caitlin, over changing the colour of the news section (from red to blue). I was abroad for our first issue so they were doing the laying up in the office and when I asked to see a draft of news, Jess had changed it back from blue to red. But I stood my ground and made her change it back. People are always going to disagree with you, but you’re the one in charge so if you’re sure of your decision stick with it. By the end of the year they even admitted (somewhat grudgingly) that news looked better in blue.
Trust your gut about people too. Sure someone might not be quite qualified for the job, but enthusiasm and hard work are much better qualities than a knowledge of indesign or WordPress. You can teach people skills, you can’t teach them a work ethic. Similarly, trust your gut when it’s time to fire someone too.
Listen to your deputies, even when you don’t want to
I will be honest, I didn’t like either of them when I started editing Concrete (sorry guys), but now we’re best friends. So what changed?
We developed a working relationship where we could tell each other the honest truth, even when it hurt, and we always listened when it was important. I’m not talking section colour trivial, I’m talking ethical issues, legal requirements – make sure you have someone (or two somebodies as I was lucky enough to have) who have your back and can make you listen even when you don’t want to.
When it hits the fan, the buck stops at you
Chances are things will go wrong and you’ll end up getting screamed at. But when this does happen, suck it up because it’s your newspaper, so that means it’s your fault. Yes you might have told an editor to check the copyright on images a thousand times, but when they don’t and someone comes knocking for money, it’s your problem to deal with. Never throw one of your team under the bus (even when it is their fault) because, quite frankly, that’s just sh***y leadership.
Yes it may mean you’re the one getting yelled at by union officers, but that’s what you signed up for.
Never ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself
You might now be media royalty, but calm that ego. A good leader is someone who isn’t afraid to do someone else’s job. Help the copy editors when you’re running up against a deadline and they’re stressing out and be the first one at an event to set up the banner. Don’t ever ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t be happy to do yourself (because there’s a solid chance they’ll flake and you WILL end up doing it yourself).
On a similar vein, make sure your editors know you appreciate them. If someone has done an amazing section – tell them! And buy everyone a Christmas gift if you have the budget, or do secret Santa. Build up a good relationship with your team, because they’ll be the ones you’re spending all hours with.
Switch off occasionally
I lived on campus during my fourth year, so this was hard for me. I checked emails religiously and because of my close proximity to the office, it was me running back in my pyjamas when we’d forgotten to send the front page to print. But occasionally find time to switch off and maybe do some degree work.
(I realise this one is hypocritical because I never would have listened).
Enjoy every damn second
Chances are you’ll never be in charge of a newspaper again, so cherish every last second. I wish I could go back and do it again, but at the same time I wouldn’t change a thing. Concrete made me who I am, got me a job, and gave me friends for life. There were tantrums (Jess when she couldn’t get hash browns for breakfast), tears (me when the front page corrupted an hour before sending to print) and so many typos (“some things change never”).