How to be a leader in the newsroom without the title

A girl types in the computer.

Kacee Haslett works hard on her story for web week about still being inspired by journalism, despite not being named editor-in-chief at home. Photo by Kirsten Huh

March of my junior year did not go how I imagined. My high school journalism teacher named my good friend editor-in-chief of our small high school newsmagazine. I would remain web editor.

I cried. Was I bad at the only thing I loved? All I could think about was how I should just quit journalism.

Three days after the announcement, I found a Medill envelope in my mailbox. It wasn’t an 8×11, but it was thicker than the other envelopes around it.

I ripped it open. “CONGRATULATIONS!”

I couldn’t believe that I’d attend such a prestigious program with 83 other student journalists. Clearly something stood out because Medill wanted me to come learn for five weeks.

Then I froze: I just knew I would be the only one who was not in charge of her newsroom at home.

Sure, my mom already created a packing list and my dad kept saying “my little girl is leaving me” as if they were sending me away for a year at college, but all I could think about was how out of place I’d be among these future newsroom leaders — all EIC’s, I was sure.

Within the first few days, I’d made friends with two other cherubs who would return home to “student bosses.” Then we met about a dozen more who also were going through the same experience. Everyone shared my sentiments — crying after receiving their non-EIC positions, wondering if they belonged in journalism and struggling with possibly strained friendships.

The second week brought a bonding moment: a guest speaker focused solely on what to do and to not do as an editor-in-chief. During the lecture, my friend Yalda Khodadad of Los Altos, California, asked how non-EIC’s should handle our positions. Melissa Harris, founder and CEO of M. Harris & Co., told us that someone always must be the “first follower.” Leaders need someone to help them get everyone involved — and that’s our job.

Newly motivated, I finished a list of tasks I wanted to complete this year as web editor, some as simple as updating our awards list and some as complex as producing videos bimonthly.

Coming to cherubs reminded me that I am good at something I love: writing. It also reminded me that I am capable of continuing journalism, and strengthened my writing, reporting, design and video skills more than I ever thought possible. Instead of dreading returning to my newsroom, I am more thrilled than ever to start checking boxes off my long list of tasks.

I am thankful for the lack of animosity between my EIC and me. We are good friends, and I will be forever grateful.

I will return to Indianapolis this fall knowing I will lead my staff with the confidence I discovered at cherubs. Titles aren’t everything.