For the inaugural retrospective on Spectator alumni, we interviewed 135th Managing Board editor in chief Ben Cotton, CC ’11 and sifted through archives to put together a retrospective on the former history and political science major’s spectacular career.
Ben Cotton’s devotion to Spectator all started during an NSOP week open house. Then-editor in chief John Davisson had just stepped down from a desk-cum-pulpit and advised all prospective Speccies to talk to people in different sections; he would be milling around if anyone had any questions. Never shy, Cotton went up to him and asked, “So how do I get your job?” Davisson laughed. Cotton was completely serious.
Before Cotton headed the 134th board, he was in production, serving as deputy production editor and design editor before deciding to run for an even more major leadership role. As he wrote in his Senior Column, he had a “few initial doubts about throwing [himself] into the paper the way [he] had in high school,” but Amanda Sebba, managing editor on the 132nd board, straightened him out. “It wasn’t that I was the greatest designer in the world,” Cotton remembers, “but it was clear to her that I was someone who could—if I made a larger commitment to Spec, put myself into it even more—be someone who could make a difference.”
During his tenure as EIC, Cotton said, his mission was to rally the Columbia community of writers and readers to the unifying force that is Columbia Spectator. He was committed to being a role model for the rest of the staff, as prior editors in chief had been for him, and making Spec as open as possible. “When I came in [as EIC] I thought we could be doing a better job of being accessible to readers. … It was a mission that all staff could work towards,” he told us in a November interview.
Toward that end, Spectrum, which Ben credits as the brainchild of 135th managing editor Thomas Rhiel, was launched that year. “It gave everyone something to be excited about,” Cotton told us. “Getting published on Spectrum was a big deal since a lot more people were going to see your work.” It also doubled the traffic of the Spectator website and brought in more readers as well as writers from campus, allowing Spec to expand its impact on the community.
But back to that first open house. After Davisson had stopped laughing, Cotton recalled, he grew serious and told him, “You’d have to be crazy.”
Such words would dissuade many and perhaps should have dissuaded Ben. During our interview, Cotton recalled times when he’d lie to administrators about how many hours he’d slept the night before and how he suffered many a night and early morning with the fussy, now retired printer Boobear.
But, Cotton told us, he’s glad to have made it through. To current Speccies he advises, “Keep doing it, go as far as you can. … It’s a huge sacrifice in terms of sleep and other things, but I don’t regret it for a minute.”
Ben Cotton is currently a second-year business analyst at McKinsey & Co. He will be hosting a consulting talk along with another Spec alum Mrinal Mohanka at the Spectator offices this Sunday at 5:30 pm.