Student apathy and other problems for the editor-in-chiefs of the ‘Other Press’

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A conversation with six leaders of Douglas College’s newspaper

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. July 8, 2016

You are a runner in a relay race. As your teammate approaches you, you see her hand extend, holding the baton. Your feet move to keep pace as she draws nearer. The fingers in your hands blossom out, creating a target, not just for the baton, but also for the responsibility, the confidence, the weight of the entire collective. You are the runner; you are the next editor-in-chief of the Other Press.

 

The Other Job

The sprint is a year long and starts in September. Douglas College gathers for orientation, and the parking-lot-like building that is the New Westminster campus fills up with young minds. Sitting at a foldout table in the concourse is an optimistic individual, driven to make a mark on the long legacy that is the Douglas College newspaper: the Other Press.

With a welcoming smile, the editor-in-chief of the only student newspaper on campus showcases the publication to new students entering the post secondary institution and sometimes to students who have been enrolled in the college for years already.

“When you are talking to people and trying to recruit people to the newspaper,” says Natalie Serafini, editor-in-chief from 2014–15, “they are often surprised that we have a newspaper.”

“It’s also surprising the amount of people that say that they read it,” says Jacey Gibb, editor-in-chief from 2013–14. “It sounds bad to say surprising.”

During the length of the orientation, the editor-in-chief is not only present to increase readership, but also to recruit contributors by introducing the variety of roles that goes into running a publication: writers, designers, illustrators, photographers, distributors, etc. The editor-in-chief is not only the boss, but also the ambassador.

“You only need to get one person for these events to be worthwhile,” says Sharon Miki, editor-in-chief from 2012–13). “You are never going to have an event and get like 20 new writers and 1,000 new readers. It’s Douglas College. It’s such a small community. You only need to get one.”

The Other Press, like a collegial program, is a revolving door for students to collaborate and gain experience in preparation for the real world. Each year, the editor-in-chief position opens up. The incumbent can choose to reapply and serve another term, or choose to leave the shoes for someone else to fill.

While much of it feels like training for the job of the future, being the leader of a student newspaper is a responsibility that weighs heavy, especially when working with a group of unseasoned writers, editors, and contributors. With ego and inexperience colliding, it is the job of the editor-in-chief to both calm the waters and steer the ship.

“I felt like a lot of my time was spent dealing with the personnel,” says Liam Britten, editor-in-chief from 2008–10. “That was challenging: dealing with people who should just not have been there. You just can’t get rid of these people. It took a while.”

“I’m sure everyone else had this experience,” says Gibb, “where I’ve gotten a piece—especially as a section editor—and you are just reading it and you’re like there is no way this person reread what they wrote, because this doesn’t make sense and it’s just total garbage.”

“[The Other Press] equipped me with skills like dealing with problem children and persevering through really challenging experiences where you don’t know what you’re doing and you are just flailing through it,” says Cody Klyne, editor-in-chief from 2011–12. “And you do and you are kind of just given a lot of responsibility and you can take that and really run with it or you can sit on it and not really have any ambition for the newspaper for your term.”

 

The Other News

Hidden away on the first floor is the Other Press headquarters in Room 1020. During the Fall and Winter semesters, the collective gathers weekly in the bowels of the campus to produce a newspaper. The issues will sit on black metal stands at entrances and high traffic areas of the school, but with only 50 per cent pick up—roughly 500 hundred hard copy readers per week—it often seems like a job that is supplying without demand.

Without a need to feed the beast, it’s easy to become apathetic. The editor-in-chief term at the Other Press is indeed a marathon, but the leader is not running alone. Leading a team and keeping them from falling into the grips of apathy is as challenging as keeping up with all the emails that pile up. The job is not just about meeting deadlines; it’s about producing quality work.

“I guess one of the main points is showing that you care,” says Eric Wilkins, the current editor-in-chief of the Other Press. “If you don’t, nobody else is going to follow. First and foremost is making yourself as enthusiastic as possible.”

“I know as editor-in-chief, one thing that was very frustrating was how hard it was to get people to write Douglas College-centered stuff,” says Britten, “or even Lower Mainland-focused stuff can be a challenge. Let’s be honest, nobody reads the Other Press to find out what happened somewhere else in the world last week, right? But that’s what people’s instincts are; that is what’s interesting to them. You have to look for not the most obvious story, I guess. Look for opportunity to localize things.”

“If you are a sports editor, go watch the damn Royals play,” Britten adds. “Or if you are the arts editor, you might have to go see a Douglas College play.”

The Other Press began in 1976 and it has always struggled to find its place within the Douglas College ecosystem. Splintered from the rest of the institution, the Other Press requires the editor-in-chief to bridge the gap between the different societies and communities, while staying true to the publication’s journalistic values.

“It’s so rare that anything noteworthy happens,” says Miki, “that if it ever does happen you have to talk about it. We’re not a PR magazine for Douglas College. But if we were, then yes, we wouldn’t say anything critical. But if something happened—and it’s true—we have to report on it.”

 

The Other Problems

The Other Press is an organization with many moving parts. It’s often hard to keep track of the squeaky wheels. In an effort to produce a newspaper on a weekly basis, there are going to be mistakes. The lesson is in how one recovers. Consider all the errors that take place in a classroom: spelling mistakes, incorrect facts, plagiarisms, etc. All these problems are magnified when it is printed a thousand times and handed out to the general public. The editor-in-chief’s face is on every issue printed. If there is a problem, there is no hiding and there is no blaming; he or she must face the hard light.

“My worst fear was that I was going to do something that would end the newspaper,” says Gibb. “I’m sure everyone had that fear. I actually had the opportunity to end it, in that our contract with the college student levy was up for renewal in my term. It happened to come upon a very funny time.”

It was a funny time indeed. A humour article mistaken as legitimate news got the Other Press in hot water at the tail end of 2013. Gibb was the editor-in-chief at the time and he received the brunt of the backlash as the article involved the New Westminster Police Department.

“If the paper hadn’t been on such strong foundation,” Gibb adds, “who knows what would have happened?”

At the time, it was no laughing matter for the publication. But Gibb laughs it off now, reminding us that the words printed on the paper have impact. Being the leader of a media organization, even one as small as the Other Press, carries a certain responsibility. It’s not just for the people who speak out, but for the people who don’t as well.

“You focus in on the fact that you get surprised when people say ‘I’m surprised that there is a newspaper at the college,’” says Klyne. “Like you are kind of taken aback by that statement. It’s just, you do pour so much of yourself into it, but there are a lot of people who do read and don’t make their voices known or participate, and they are just the readers. And that’s their place in life and they are just happy to do that. And it’s our job to just be there and supply that.”

Each week, the editor-in-chief of the Other Press chases the clock, rallying the collective to produce a high-quality publication for the readers. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first few steps in September or the last leg in August, they know their efforts will be visible in print and digital not just for Douglas College to see, but for the whole world. They also know that their time is fleeting. This learning experience they treated wholeheartedly as a “real job” will soon be over.

“I feel like there was so much I wanted to do that I never got around to doing,” says Serafini. “There would always be a fire—not a literal fire—to put out. I feel like by the end of my first semester I was so exhausted, I was just trying to find the next person to fill a position—put out the next fire.”

You are a runner in a relay race. You receive the baton—but it’s not really a baton, it’s a fire extinguisher. You are the next editor-in-chief of the Other Press. You want to make your mark, but it’s actually an environment to make mistakes. If that’s the case, the best mark is to continue the legacy, improve the organization incrementally for the next generation, and allow room for the leaders of the future to solve the problems that are as ingrained into the institution as student apathy.

“You don’t need to be a born leader for anything,” says Wilkins. “You grow your way into it. You learn things. You figure out how stuff works.”

For over 40 years, the Other Press has been a fixture in the Douglas campus community. While it might be considered fringe, because there are no academic programs linked to it, it a necessary part of the institution. The craft of writing, editing, and communicating is a key to professional success, regardless of the student’s career path.

Why does a school have gym? Not because we want our students to become body builders or professional athletes, it’s because we want them to establish a healthy lifestyle. The same goes with a student newspaper. It’s not about the product; it’s about the work itself, and it’s about getting better and stronger at the craft. For the editor-in-chief, it’s his or her chance to learn what no course in Douglas can teach, and that is a unique opportunity.

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