We’ve said it once but we will say it again: It’s that dreaded time of year once more. And while I’m sure you’re sick of people who once accosted you on Eastern Avenue calling foul on the whole shamozzle, I’m going to do it anyway. Because what better time is there to call for the abolition of the Honi Soit elections than in the midst of one?
The current system sees the editors of Honi elected for a year-long term alongside the Student Representative Council President and councillors, and National Union of Student delegates. This means campaigning, a-frames, the whole nine yards: but this hasn’t always been the case.
The current system was only introduced in the 1980s. Before then, Editors in Chief were elected by the editorial team itself, from the pool of reporters already contributing to Honi. Think of it as a promotion. So why do we subject ourselves to a hellish process for something that isn’t even hugely traditional?
Where the election goes wrong
Let’s begin with the basics:
Journalism, and editing in particular, is a skill. It is something that people go to University to learn and spend whole careers mastering. Honi has a hard-earned reputation for keeping up with professional newsrooms. For this to continue, the people in charge need to know how to write a lede, seek appropriate comment and do all of this ethically (and without getting sued).
That is not to say the best candidates for the job will always be the ones with the beefiest writing portfolios. In fact, Honi is importantly one of the only places a keen young journo, comedian, artist or misc. content creator can get their start judged solely on the quality of their ideas. But for this creativity to manifest, you need a familiarity with creating media, or, at the very least, a familiarity with how Honi is run.
When you combine the election of Honi editors with a political election for SRC supremacy, you imply that it, too, is a political election. It opens the editorship up to political hacks masquerading as student journalists and pushes creativity and skill to the backburner while campus popularity stays at the forefront. Under this system, it is no surprise that the founding members of the majority of past winning tickets have had previous involvement in student politics or other prominent campus groups. It is also no surprise that candidates running in the current election feel comfortable bragging that they have never read Honi — the paper they wish to edit.
But all of this is nothing compared to the real failing of the election process. If you disagree with everything else I have said up until now, consider this: The entire election process, despite the illusion of democracy, excludes the majority of students.
It is the reason that most editing teams end up mirroring the last, it is the reason low SES, rural and international students, amongst others, lack representation, and I’ll go out on a limb and say it is the reason that Honi is no longer read by the majority of the student populus.
Wait, what was that?
So how can a public, supposedly democratic, election be exclusionary?
To have the opportunity to edit this fine publication, you have to run in the annual SRC election as part of a group of ten undergraduate students (known as a ticket). Tickets have dumb names: this year it’s Heat versus Mint. Last year, some losers even ran on the name Wet.
Tickets form entirely independently from any organisation and are often in the works up to a year in advance. They usually start as two or three friends with similar editorial aspirations. These “founding members” then embark on the process of filling out their ticket with others who share this ambition.
In an ideal world, this process would involve trying to find the most talented and creative people available to run. This might involve reading through past Honis, asking around, perhaps scouring the performing arts scene and Media and Communications department.
In a less ideal, but still palatable, world, it would involve networking with friends and friends of friends to find your future colleagues.
In a realistic world, it involves these two things with the additional consideration of the looming election, where editing the paper means getting the most votes. And to get the most votes, the people in your ticket need to know a lot of people. You need these people, not just to bring in voters, but also campaigners.
So, in the spirit of collecting votes, the people organising the tickets try to target as many social groups on campus as possible, almost as if checking personality types off a list. The big ones include the performing arts scene, debating, political factions and larger, more politically engaged societies such as Model UN. You don’t need me to tell you that students facing financial difficulty or other disadvantage probably don’t have time to network at debating drinks.
Then there’s the worst type of world, in which tickets are engineered by political factions with the express purpose of furthering the power of their party. Yes, this happens too.
That’s not to say you can’t try your luck and approach a ticket to join — they are, for the most part, nice people. However, for those outside the student politics bubble, there’s no way to know where these tickets are forming and who’s involved. Even then, your worth to the ticket will determined based not just on your experience and ideas, but also the size of your network.
So under the current system, to even be in the running to edit the paper you have to be a quasi-BNOC (for those lucky enough to not know this acronym I regret to tell you it means Big Name on Campus) or at the very least, be mates with some BNOCs.
Which is bullshit. Especially for a paper that prides itself on originality, creativity and countering the mainstream narratives. Honi will never be at its best until it is opened up to a wider range of student voices.
OK, but how could we do it differently?
This year, despite these issues, 20 people are running. Last year, 30 did. So there should be no shortage of applicants if the role was opened up to the public in a run-of-the-mill application process like nearly all other gigs.
The applications would be widely publicised around campus and open to all undergraduate students.
A board of judges consisting of a random selection of past Honi editors, media professionals and SRC staff would review the applications. They would appoint ten editors — individually, not as a ticket — on the merit of their ideas and ability to implement them, taking into account that running a paper like Honi works best with a mix of skill sets, not only career-climbing media and communications students.
Concerns around the SRC taking control of the process and appointing editors sympathetic to the powerful faction’s causes are valid, particularly when it has happened before. In the 1960s, conservative editor Keith Windschuttle was appointed by the SRC to stem Honi’s left leanings.
But in a perfect world — with watertight regulations and a vocal student body ready to call bullshit — this model would result in a well-rounded, diverse team, appointed based on what they honestly bring to the table, and not the number of friends they made at first year Arts camp.
Maani Truu is one of the current Honi Soit editors.