First things first – this is a highly delayed post. I attribute the delay to laziness and my love for procrastination.
I spent the last one year (June 2013 – April 2014) completely engrossed in leading the website of a university centric news portal – DU Beat. What started as an ‘extra-curricular’ activity ended up teaching me more about my major (Journalism) than three years of undergraduate education. At the end of it all, I had the opportunity of knowing a great bunch of people, learn and unlearn several aspects of the real world, and overall leave college with an experience that I would always remember.
I decided to jot down five key lessons from this experience:
1. Politics are the same at every level: Be it national, or institutional
When ABVP came to power in the University student union elections, people said that the Modi wave was working its magic. When a couple of ABVP members went on to smear black paint at a professor, people said that this is how BJP goons behave and if Modi comes to power, such hooliganism would dominate the streets. We changed voices with changing times. Ah, the AK times.
Representative politics and public relations were rampant here as well. Even in a public protest, if DUTA was one of the 10 participating groups, their press release had a photograph with just the DUTA banners. Same event’s press release from a student group – guess who will be the highlight?
Political groups function the same, be it national, or institutional.
2. Physical Interaction is key to working as a team
For an editor to know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member is important. And in order to do that, it’s good to see them once a week, and hangout with them in their drunk state. Knowing how people you work with think and behave enables you to find the best fitting piece in a story. At DUB, we met once a week, and also hung out in the name of picnics and casual lunches. When you knew inherent biases and passions, it was easier to figure out who’d be willing to push an assignment to attend an event, and who would probably leave it midway.
Also, a 15-minute group meeting gets more work done as opposed to 800 WhatsApp messages or 30 messages in an email thread.
3. The Internet is indeed the present and future of student media
DU Beat is a weekly newspaper. And a lot can happen within a week. And honestly, no one wants to read about an event a week after it has taken place. Print also requires a lot of money – something that can be difficult for an independent student publication to raise.
However, web is an altogether different story.
We could push stories minutes after they took place and at times also indulge in a live blog or two. When it came to time sensitivity and breaking news such as association elections and the FYUP fiasco, we had the space to report like a 24/7 media organisation. With open source tools available, we could also explore things such as timelines and maps. The medium is easier to experiment and grow. Ah, and coming to money – it certainly costs less than print. A lot less.
4. Sometimes, fulfillment is all you need
All positions that help in churning content are voluntary. We don’t pay. Even despite that, from the slew of emails that we receive, people want to join and contribute. When I was an outsider, I found it a bit insane. Spending 20-30 hours a week on something you didn’t get paid for. It didn’t make any sense. But then once I came inside, I knew what the magic was about. No, it’s not about being part of a happening group of Delhi University (we are hardly happening. Read the bit about 30-hour work weeks again.) It’s about doing something you love.
I did other stints that were paid, but they weren’t as ‘fulfilling’. I love the Internet, scope of the medium and doing journalistic work in general (and obviously bossing people around). DUB fulfilled those interests and it is perhaps the best thing I did in college. Why I did I do it? Because it was a fulfilling experience. Fulfillment was all I needed.
5. The best results come out of collaborations
The reason why student organisations (even start ups in general) are good places to learn, is because almost everyone is a rookie – so things can be less intimidating. Yes, they might be studying communication theory in class, but that has never helped a 19-year old cover a court case against a college principal. Your editor, who was in your shoes a year back will pretend they know everything, but honestly, they have no idea as well. If you are 19, they are 20. SAME DUMB BRAIN. Still, since they are the editor and all that jazz, they will present their perspective in full glory, and a lot of times, they’ll be wrong. Forgive them. They haven’t been an editor before.
However, what you can do is collaborate. DUB was a flat organisation. Any correspondent was free to point out my grammatical and factual errors or guide me along my inability to pen down opinions (that inability shall always remain). The collaborative factor goes back to #2 as well. This means that when the photographer is best friends with your reporter, they will coordinate and meet up to cover an event, without you even getting involved. Same goes for the copy editor and correspondent – a copy editor who doesn’t work WITH a correspondent, isn’t worthy of the task. It has to be a collaboration. It is good to remember that you are not working as individuals, but as an organisation.
If my own experience ended up being a pitch to join DUB, feel free to send my amazing juniors your pitch at firstname.lastname@example.org. But remember, my standards say 20 hours a week. For my folks at DUB – I love you guys to death and I know that my constant messages about random errors that I spot can be irritating. To make up for that, you guys are welcome to point any errors on this post. Grab your chance!