We continue to respect our heritage/amorous affair with our mother-magazine, The Blue & White by posting each issue of the magazine online. The latest issue, available this week around campus, is a cornucopia of delights: an interview with Dean Peter Awn; the quixotic quest for a Quidditch team; and a reflection on Columbia’s recent media malaise. In Campus Characters, the Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at email@example.com. From the current issue, Senior Editor Carolyn Ruvkun profiles Ben Cotton, CC ’11.
On just another sleepless night at the Columbia Spectator office, former Editor-in-Chief Ben Cotton, CC’11, was holding a meeting in his office with his staff. He suddenly dropped to the floor and started vigorously performing push-ups. Unlike many of his notoriously caffeine addled Speccies, Cotton crusades against java, proud to rely solely on will power and bad pop music. “If I have to stay up, I’ll stay up,” Cotton insists, sometimes devoting as many as eighty hours a week to the Spectator. His suitemate since freshman year, Dhruv Vasishtha, CC’11, and former Spectator Managing Editor, Thomas Rhiel, CC’11, both credit this stance to his “boyish“ impulses. He injects an almost juvenile energy and authenticity into his two passions, Spec and baseball.
Vasishtha sums up Cotton in five words: “Ben loves the Red Sox.” That almost unconditional and inexplicable fervor the Newton, MA native dedicates to his home team carries over to Spec. “I have a hard time relaxing in general, I always get stressed about something and want to find a problem to attack.” Spec, he explains while gesticulating emphatically, provided a productive outlet. The paper quickly became all-consuming, as its new online presence, Spectrum, which Cotton helped create, required constant attention and almost incomprehensible sacrifice. Following the uneasy editorship of Melissa Repko, CC ‘10, Cotton emerged as a decisive director and charismatic coach. His identity grew inextricably entwined with Spec. He describes, with the terminology of a seasoned leader, “tackling challenges at the macro level” and “getting my hands into the problem.” Suitemates still catch Ben, like “a retired executive still trying to stay active,” longingly checking his Gmail and waiting for something to do. But unlike many past editors, Cotton won’t be writing for a newspaper next year. With hopes of playing baseball professionally dashed by age fourteen, he’ll instead work as a strategic consultant for McKinsey to develop his interest in all things “macro” and managerial.
He maintains a sportsman’s mentality—a competitive streak and unbridled enthusiasm, tempered by mature drive and professionalism. On spotting strangers reading Spec, Cotton immediately sits up in his chair and eagerly exclaims, “Yeah, it’s the best thing ever. I get so giddy and start Gchatting everyone in Spec.” He quickly calms himself, crosses his hands, and adopts a more serious tone. “Yes, I would always be thrilled by that.”
Spec readers credit Ben with his copious and comprehensive coverage of the thorny Columbia housing lottery, a process fellow housing aficionado, Vasishtha, likens to Cotton’s other pastime, fantasy baseball. Practically a Nate Silver in training, Cotton insightfully overlaid a statistical scheme to extract something digestible, as he eagerly uncovered the logic behind McBain cut-off numbers. “There’s no logical answer to why I spend hours writing about Columbia’s housing process,” Cotton concedes, “but I think it’s fun when you get interested in something to learn everything about it.”
As he untangles himself from Spec and the school he so tirelessly covered, friends step in to chart his course. “Up until this year,” Vasishtha jokes, “my plan was for Ben to become President of the United States and appoint me to some cabinet position.” With a careful combination of quiet competitiveness and endearing compassion, Cotton claims to channel fictional president Jed Bartlet from the TV series, The West Wing, when he gives speeches at Spec. He’s only half kidding.