Learning not to be ‘the scary’ editor (after being one)

Life lessons in patience and being a leader


Alvin Buyinza

By Alvin Buyinza, Assistant News Editor

The easiest way to scare off a new writer is by yelling at them through email. I found that out during one of my first desk nights as an assistant news editor for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian. After spending probably over five hours sitting in the Collegian newsroom alone at night waiting for an article to be emailed to me by one of our staff writers, my patience started to wear thin.

“If the event ended at 8 p.m., why isn’t the article in yet?” I thought to myself. “How hard is it to write an article?”

I initially decided to give the new writer some slack.

“I’ll give them until 9:30 p.m.,” I said. And then 9:30 p.m. passed.

“I’ll give them until 10 p.m.,” I said again. And then 10 p.m. passed.

“I’ll give them until 10:45 p.m.,” I said again, now a little irritated. And then, you guessed it, 10:45 p.m. passed.

As midnight grew near, I got desperate and decided to send a tiny reminder to the staff writer.

“It’s just a small fire under their seat,” I thought to myself. “Just something to get them going a bit faster.”


In hindsight, I may have burned them alive.

“Time is now a factor” is an ongoing joke in the Collegian newsroom and much to my annoyance, Collegian editors love whenever they get a chance to use it.

Running late to a Collegian party? Time is now a factor!

Rushing to make deadline on InDesign? Time is now a factor!

Need a caption for Collegian t-shirts? Time is now a factor!

A year and a half later, I look back on the time I almost made a staff writer cry via email as a sign of growth.

Hear me out.

The best thing about looking back on moments that make you cringe is discovering why they’re so God awful and painful to think about. For me, my “Time is now a factor” moment came in a time in my life where I was a new editor in the newsroom. A year ago, I thought being an editor was all about setting strict guidelines for writers and making sure they’re on point for absolutely everything.

If you were to ask me as a junior what type of editor I was, I probably would’ve said I’m somewhere in between Mr. Jonah Jameson from “The Amazing Spiderman” comic book series and Mr. Spacely from “The Jetsons.” Strict. Commanding. Serious and in charge. I think the appeal of being the “scary” editor was that I was more likely to get news writers’ attention and respect; I thought if I was a little tough, they’d be better. But more importantly, I wanted to be like the Jameson’s and Spacely’s because I wanted to prove to not only myself but to everyone else that I was good enough to be an editor. I thought that maybe if I was tough enough, people would see me as a good leader.

But what ended up happening was the exact opposite. Being a Jameson/Spacely only made it harder for me to connect with writers or have fun with them. Instead of seeing them as people I could mentor, I saw them as drones I sent off for assignments. Deep down, I wanted to be a good editor, like my Editor-in-Chief Devyn Giannetti.

My best moments with Devyn were when she looked out for me in the newsroom. I’ll never forget the time when I forgot to eat during my desk night, and she gave me her UCard to get something from Blue Wall. Or the time when she stayed up until midnight with me helping with InDesign. Or the time when she let me pass in an article, even though it was past the due date.

Thinking about this now, it’s funny that I even mentioned her, because what made her such good editor in chief was that she was exactly the opposite of who I was trying to emulate. Devyn was a warm-hearted editor — she took the time to get to know staff writers and genuinely cared for everyone in the newsroom. To me, Devyn was the role model that was right under my nose (metaphorically and literally because she was shorter than me). She was the editor I wish I could’ve strived to be like instead of Jameson. She was patient, kind, funny and never asked for pictures of Spiderman (even though I wanted her to!).

A year removed from the “Time is now a factor” incident, I know at least 75 percent of my news writers’ names by heart and they constantly stop to say ‘hi’ to me when I’m walking to class. My favorite moment this year was when a news writer asked me if I could help him write an article. My heart jumped a little bit when he asked me because I never thought that I was approachable enough to be seen as a worthy mentor. It was probably the highlight of my senior year at the Collegian (other than writing that article on Porta). I even won the award for “Most Improved” last semester at the Collegian’s award night.

If you were to ask me now what type of editor I am at the Collegian, I would probably tell you I’m some mix between Michael Scott from “The Office” and Devyn. I would tell you I’m the type of editor to send an email about how much I liked your article, the type of editor to go with you to cover a story and the type of editor to teach you how to use a camera, because I just know you’ll be an amazing multimedia journalist just like me.

I’m a good editor now because I am able to be patient with my writers. I now know that just because “time is now a factor” doesn’t mean I can’t learn to wait.

Alvin Buyinza was an assistant news editor and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @abuyinza_news.