LEADERSHIP & TEAM BUILDING
Reading Brendon Burchard’s "The Student Leadership Guide" this summer, I underestimated how social-emotional my role as an editor-in-chief would be. From carefully assigning story partners to try and quell conflict ahead of the production process to mediating between arguing story partners during the last days of production to hugging distressed staffers even as I want to collapse from exhaustion myself, the interpersonal aspects of leadership can be extremely complex to navigate. Throwing spontaneous ice cream parties, opening each class with a silly question of the day, bringing fuzzy blankets to production, collectively exchanging post-production gratitude notes and making an effort to get to know each member of staff outside the context of our magazine are examples of how my co-EICs and I try to forge stronger bonds between staffers. At the end of the day, our hope is that Verde more closely resembles a surrogate family of muckrakers than a congregation of coworkers.
No Writer Left Behind
Our editing team ensures writers are on the ball by tracking story progress using a collaborative spreadsheet. When stories fall behind, we conference with writers during class to identify roadblocks and create an updated game plan. Through our system of online edits, in-person check-ins and friendly reminders on Slack and Facebook, we're able to help Verdites remain on the same page and hit the ground running come production week.
Shown above is an editing queue from our first cycle last year. My co-EICs and I split up editing duties until the first drafts are complete. From there, each of us makes comments on every article to be published in the magazine.
Pictured above are various Slack and Facebook messages I've sent to the Verde staff. Reminders about upcoming deadlines and events are integral to communication but can easily come across as dry or overbearing over text. As a result, I try to keep my posts informative, positive and playful (when the situation calls for it).
Reflecting and Revamping
At the end of production cycles, we gather the Verde staff together to reflect on the good and the bad. Using post-its, we give thanks to our peers who helped us journalistically and emotionally make it through the last cycle, as well as offer feedback to implement in the next one. Not only is this a wholesome teambuilding exercise, it also provides me with valuable data as an EIC. Understanding what's working and what's not helps me recalibrate my leadership techniques for the cycle ahead.
To the left are gratitude notes from our last two cycles. Directly above is the aggregated feedback from last issue's production.
One of the toughest parts of being a student leader is managing my peers. Even more difficult is confronting my adviser. Our first issue of the year coincided with Verde's "20th birthday," so we decided to publish a feature documenting the magazine's growth and impact over the years. What made the process especially difficult was that every editor had a personal connection to the story, most of all our adviser, who'd poured his heart into building up our magazine since its earliest days. However, these dynamics led to friction between our adviser and one of the story writers, who felt their vision for the story was going unheard. Much of the tension stemmed from a lack of communication — our adviser felt that the early drafts inaccurately portrayed the magazine's development, but his comments were taken personally by the writer. After witnessing the writer's distress, I spoke to my adviser and mediated an open conversation between them. Uncomfortable as it was to push back against someone I held so much respect for, my advocacy for the writer ultimately cleared the air and led to a healthier working relationship between everyone involved.
In Verde's first issue, my predecessors pledged to cover issues and individuals as diverse as our student body. Each semester since, we've conducted a diversity audit of our sources to uphold that commitment. Last year, we were disconcerted by a stark lack of diversity in both age and race. More than half of Verde's sources were adults, a disproportionate majority were white and underclassmen comprised only 16 percent of students interviewed. Though chagrined, we believed complete transparency with our audience was paramount. Below, you'll find the editorial we published enumerating our audit results as well as policy plans to improve source diversity.
Leadership with Gravitas
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Verde wrote a cover package around our local student-organized rallies and ardent gun-owners. One week before our distribution, we went into lockdown ourselves, after Paly received a phone call threatening a campus shooting. Those terrifying 90 minutes occurred during my earliest days as an editor-in-chief. For the first time, I was the one living the story — not just telling it. At first, we prepared for lock-down and prayed for our lives. Once we learned the threat was a hoax, we immediately began recording our thoughts and feelings, preparing to report on the lockdown and help readers understand that, while we'd been fortunate this time, events like those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas could happen even here.
Transitioning in rapid succession from cowering student to solemn journalist was my first lesson in leadership. Watching my adviser and former EICs direct the class with composure even while grappling with rampant emotions of their own, I realized that to lead is to set the tone — to project composure and support when others need a rock. Once published, our "bullet hole" issue gained national attention on CNN and Reddit and local publications for the physical hole running through each page of the magazine. I'd seen the power of the press in action before. To step into leadership at such an incredible moment — to see the student press magnified at a national level — kickstarted an awe in me that has yet to dwindle. While our predecessors set a high bar, there's little else so exhilarating as trying to raise it.
As a team-building measure (and also because, well, it's fun), Verde engages in all manner of goofy traditions. These include group photos during Homecoming week, singing "Happy Birthday" to the magazine when we hang the latest issue up on the wall, wearing pajamas to school on the last day of a production week, a collective post-production primal scream and (not pictured) our annual non-denominational holiday gift exchange in winter.