I remember, vividly, the first time I ever wrote for The Student. Indian politician Shashi Tharoor had visited the university, and I was eager to make my mark on the paper, with my passionate views on colonialism and the British empire.
Arguably, this could have been a piece for the Comment section. Yet, given that Tharoor was visiting on a one-off occasion, along with the niche appeal of the Features, I decided that it was the perfect fit for my first plunge into student journalism. Forgetting the then 12:30pm deadline on a Saturday, I rushed back to my flat, opened my laptop and sent the final draft in a brazen email. It was published, and due to a typo, I was credited on my very first article as Features Editor; little did I know what the future held.
Fast forward two years later, and I was thrown straight into week 4 of my third year, after a short trip to India, and suddenly everyone I knew was either an editor, on committee, or often both at the same time. Brand new zines and magazines were popping up all over the place, each one offering something new to the student community: a legacy for a group of students to leave behind when they left for good.
Seeing all this, I began to feel very lost. The year before I had written a play for Bedlam Fresher’s slots, produced a show for Bedfest, and had even helped co-produce a Fringe show. Yet, here I found myself alone, suddenly on square one again. Why didn’t I have anything to do?
Then a lightbulb went off. What publication had I been writing for, consistently, for the past two years? The Student, of course; and there was one section I had kept going back to, and who were suddenly looking for two new editors. I took my shot, and was hired as new co-editor for Features, along with the fantastic Ilana Pearce.
Little did Ilana and I know what we were taking on. Both keen to leave our individual marks on the section, as well as build on our writer base, we worked hard to curate new ideas, as we navigated our ship on the unpredictable seas of Scribus software and copyediting. With time, we got the hang of it, but I noticed something: I wasn’t feeling any better. At all. Why? Being an editor for a newspaper is a big deal, isn’t it? A remarkable achievement for many. What was missing?
It wasn’t long before I figured it out. I had always seen myself as more of a creative writer (and this was what I wanted to pursue professionally after university). Therefore, I felt that everything I did had to work towards that, and that only. There are many ambitious students surrounding us, and it’s not long before we find someone who’s inevitably doing better than us, or in a place that we’d like to be in ourselves. I had fallen into the poisonous pattern that corrupts far too many of us in the student community: the comparison of oneself to every other person one knows.
Of course, nothing was stopping me doing creative writing as well; I just had no time. Along with a part-time job and the third year workload – which no one warns you about – I had little time to myself. I felt restricted, boxed, caged in. Was I now only destined to do things related to student journalism, because my main society was The Student?
I felt like this for a rather long time, and it was only recently in my final weeks of being an editor, that I realised the answer was in the very section I edited for.
Features can be considered an interesting section. I recognise my own bias here, but this being an article for said section, I’m going to look at both sides: on one hand, it’s not exactly a section every newspaper had (I was very disheartened to find that in major newspapers, such as the Guardian or the Scotsman, that their Features section had an abundance of articles…only to be from other sections). Its content can have elements of News, Comment or even Lifestyle – and, most importantly, you must do your best not to take a one-sided view, sometimes making less room for a punchy article.
On the other hand, this means you can really write about anything, as long as you look at both sides, as well as picking up some really niche content that just wouldn’t fit as well in other sections. A brilliant legacy, left by my co-editor Ilana, is the weekly TedTalk analysis: this is where a writer picks apart a TedTalk of their choice. This is a great example of a reoccurring feature, that fits its section perfectly.
It was then that it hit me; why was I forcing myself to look at things from one angle or perspective? Wasn’t the very section I edited for, and the articles I had written for it, about the opposite? Furthermore, why was I convinced that the route I had set out in my head was the only path or trajectory I had to take? If anything, The Student had improved my writing, and editing, considerably. You could argue that my creative writing has, perhaps, suffered consequentially both in practice and experience; nonetheless, I had still done something, rather than nothing. It sounds trivial, and maybe it is, but approaching my problems with the way I had approached a Features article had really changed the way I looked at things.
Much like Features, life itself is often about taking the broader view. In many cases, there are things that are just inherently right or wrong; but more often than not, there are two sides – sometimes more – to every story. Had I decided to not go for Features editor, I wouldn’t have met the fantastic writers and editors that I know now, nor would have discovered a previously neglected interest in reporting.
I could end this article by telling everyone that they absolutely must approach all of their woes like a Features writer, but that would a) defeat the purpose of this entire article and b) may cause some discord between myself, and my fellow editors, from other sections. Therefore, I’ll end with this: consider what I’ve just written about, compare it with alternative arguments and your own experiences, then come to your own conclusion; after all, people often know themselves best, don’t they?
Image: Vaishnavi Ramu