- ABOUT US
Steffie Corcoran, Editor
Photo by LORI DUCKWORTH
Vaya Con Blog
By Steffie Corcoran
September 18, 2015
The first photo below is a spread from the first Oklahoma Today issue in which my name appears—as a freelance copyeditor. The date is November/December 1991, and I feel sure I proofread two or three issues before this one. The spread after that, from our upcoming November/December 2015 issue—155 issues later—marks the end of that streak.
Fronted by buckets, bison, burgers, berries, bikes, Blake, and barns (that’s just the Bs), those magazines, piled one atop the other, are a jagged totem several feet tall that encompasses almost half of the years of my life.
It’s no small thing, leaving much-loved work and a family of colleagues, contributors, and readers. The process could fairly, based on my recent experience, be described as gut wrenching and soul searching. In the end, aided and abetted by a crystal ball full of signs and signifiers and the sage counsel of loved ones, I decided to accept an unbelievable opportunity to serve the Oklahoma State Department of Education—and the public schools from which I started my professional career a lifetime ago—in the communications department. Change is hard; change is good.
When I think about being an editor at Oklahoma Today for the past 15 years, it feels a little like being a general contractor who builds six cities a year while simultaneously working on several future cities a block at a time. It is right now and long range, detail and big picture, isolation and community. Like all public works projects, there are the inevitable delays, cost overruns, off-the-rail projections, and human resource issues. But mostly, the cities Oklahoma Today has built over the years have great views.
For years, I was a person who clung to adolescent ways of being. Single, no kids, and with a dog that does whatever she damn well pleases, I didn’t bother to learn most of the things actual adults do: cook, change a tire, fold a fitted sheet, drive a stick, take care of others. But after 4.5 years as Oklahoma Today’s editor in chief, I’ve grown up. Today, most people don’t see much of a discrepancy between the lines on my face and my behavior (at least in public). Being the responsible party for several staff members, a cadre of contributors, and thousands of readers was sobering and daunting, and I hope I’ve done that duty, and those people, justice. What follows are a few of the tools that helped along the way.
First: Thorough, clear, and responsive communication is the beginning and end, the alpha and omega, of collaborative creative work—indeed, of all work. There is no substitute for it, and no one is exempt from it.
Second: Keeping it real is a great career move and life lesson. No one likes being played, and everyone knows when they’re on the receiving end of manipulation and deceit. I’ve yet to encounter a workplace situation that wasn’t vastly improved by an injection of truth, strategically and compassionately given. It helps everyone rowing the boat understand why they’re having difficulty making it back to shore.
Third, accountability. With accountability, there are no failures—only mistakes. Because whether you’re owning a misstep or a disaster, you’re letting those you work with and those you work for know you’ve learned something that will take you to the next, better place.
Fourth, follow through. When you’re putting out a print publication with date-sensitive material and advertising, you must be both starter and finisher. Most people love to start things; few are wired to finish. It’s easy to confuse planning with accomplishment, but one is merely a necessary component—and generally antecedent—for the other. Learning to discipline yourself to, within finite time periods, cross the finish line on projects small and large will make you a valued member of any staff in any business endeavor. Plus, when you’re eyeball deep in the mess, you’ll know, because you have long practiced finishing, the indefinable zing! of completion is coming and take comfort in that fact.
I could list so many more—courage, service, respect, humor, integrity, staying out of your own way, discipline, responding rather than reacting, providing clear expectations. All are load-bearing pillars in a work house of many rooms. We earn the right to live there through a series of trials in which there are sure to be errors. Being a deeply flawed human being, I have made my share—out of pride, disorganization, avoidance, fear, and loss of nerve, temper, or center.
But as I come to the fifth lesson, love, I’m reminded that there’s a reason why someone said it’s the greatest of these. Dare to love your collaborators, your work and the processes that provide its structure, and everyone you serve. In these things, you will find your collective good fortune.
A special thank you to each and every one of you who has collaborated with me, cheered and challenged me, or read, subscribed to, and loved Oklahoma Today. You and the work have been, for me, both guide and good fortune.
My very best,