Senior Farewell: What editor Emma Williams has learned as ‘supreme leader’

When I was named editor-in-chief of the print edition last year, I skipped the celebration period. There was no special dinner or night out on the town – I had grand plans, and I wasn’t going to let ice cream get in the way.

Instead I spent my time planning for the next year – the year I would make the Octagon the best it had ever been.

I worked for hours a day developing ways to improve every aspect of the paper. I created a class website, paste-up dinner schedules, Powerpoints on design and photography principles and schedules for the Octagon “boot camp” in August; I came to the Cave weekly during the summer to clean up and design pages.

My subordinates didn’t fail to notice the slowly emerging autocracy. The screensavers on the Cave computers began switching to Photoshopped images of infamous dictators with my face on their shoulders, and a proposal for the staff sweatshirt had a raised fist and the words “Bring Down the Dictatorship.”

Even Octagon adviser Patricia Fels referenced my “leadership” when she tweeted “Under Emma Williams, the trains run on time!” after the first issue went to print.

While most would take offense at having their face superimposed on Stalin or Chairman Mao, I actually kind of liked it. I felt like I was making a difference, and I was convinced this was a positive one.

Senior print editor-in-chief Emma Williams.
Photo by Adam Ketchum & graphic by Amelia Fineberg
Senior print editor-in-chief Emma Williams.

In the first few weeks of senior year, everything that happened seemed like a disaster.

If stories were a couple days late, I would find the reporters and scold them. If a staffer didn’t seem to take Octagon seriously enough, I would send conspiratorial emails to Fels and call the person to tell them to step it up.

If it weren’t for the slightly more sane online editor-in-chief Aishwarya Nadgauda, I’m sure some staffers would’ve quit in the first month.

But as the year went on, I began to realize that my approach wasn’t working. Some seniors were brave enough to tell me that I was ostracizing them, and I eventually listened.

As much as I enjoy planning my day down to the last minute and completing assignments early, most people don’t.

So I began to take these near catastrophes less seriously. I would still feel like yelling when Grant Miner turned in his story weeks late or when Maxwell Shukuya spent paste-up searching Spotify instead of working on pages.

But I tried to keep a calm face and act like these events weren’t the end of the world.

Eventually, I began to believe the act, and I came to a marvelous conclusion: being editor-in-chief doesn’t mean I’m above everyone else. I’m just the one that people get to point fingers at when things go wrong.

Once I had this realization, Octagon became much more enjoyable – I spent more time working on stories and designs, and I grew closer to my peers.

Don’t misunderstand. I still feel like shaking Grant when I hear he hasn’t done a single interview two weeks after his story was assigned. But I’ve learned to put things in perspective and to appreciate the experience.

I have no doubt that my years on Octagon have been a blessing. The friends and memories I’ve made will be in my life forever.

Most importantly, though, Octagon has transformed me from a competitor to a collaborator. I’ve gone from being concerned solely with the end product to caring most about the people and process that make that product possible.

Even though I like to think I’ve changed, I still smile when I see my face behind Batman villain Bane’s mask on my own desktop.

Maybe I’m still a totalitarian at heart.

Previously published in the print edition on May 26, 2015. 

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