Honi Soit writing competiton. Entries close July 29

Honi Soit profile: CAKE for Honi

CAKE wants to be a strong advocate for students and has the knowledge to achieve it, but have sometimes been unreliable as writers.

Quiz score: 79%
Members: Roisin Murphy, Zara Zadro, Christian Holman, Thomas Sargeant, Ellie Stephenson, Fabian Robertson, Sam Randle, Carmeli Argana, Khanh Tran, Amelia Koen

In the face of attacks on higher education and declining campus life, CAKE hopes to offer a paper that is a “really strong advocate for student perspectives” that aren’t “necessarily found in the mainstream media.” They would support “radically stacking the paper with opinions that favour students” and taking a critical, analysis-heavy approach to news. However, CAKE exhibits concerning disparities in experience between ticket members, and an unreliable track record with consistently turning in articles this year. 

CAKE’s experience includes two editors of USU publication Pulp (Fabian Robertson, a current editor, and Ellie Stephenson, who edited in 2020). CAKE members have also edited or are editing SASS journals (ARNA and 1978), SULS journals (Yemaya), and various autonomous publications of Honi such as Women’s and Queer Honi and the Enviro Collective’s Combust.

CAKE’s news-writing experience is bolstered by Robertson and Stephenson’s experience at Pulp. The ticket brands themselves as a steady pair of hands to guide students through a federal election in 2022, promising deeper political coverage from a student perspective and on-the-ground reporting from Canberra. Robertson and Stephenson are the only candidates in the election to have covered student elections, which gives them a helpful advantage.

As well as in-depth news reporting that holds the University and government to account, CAKE is promising more investigative journalism, and has the experience to back this claim. They say that these are the kinds of stories that “you’d look back on a decade later and go, ‘that really was quite important.’” While struggling through an Honi investigation last year, Robertson has since investigated the University’s ties to the fossil fuel industry and confidential donors. Likewise, Khanh Tran has experience submitting GIPA requests as an Honi reporter. By comparison to DRIP’s absence of experience with investigations, members of CAKE have already developed the skill sets necessary for the task.

CAKE is staking a claim to performing arts on campus, viewing it as essential to “fighting for campus life.” CAKE promises a weekly guide to local gigs (fingers crossed for 2022), and want reviews to be written by people with performing arts experience — but this may unintentionally exclude junior reporters from accessible writing opportunities. CAKE takes issue with Honi’s performing arts coverage for being “critical for the sake of being critical” and want it to be in a more “productive light”.

They want to “bring [Honi] into the modern student experience” with engaging social media content, in a time where students are more detached from campus — though Robertson has made Instagram news summaries and they have members with video editing experience, it is doubtful whether they would pull off this policy to the same standard as digital-focused and multimedia-heavy DRIP.

CAKE scored an impressive 79% in their quiz, clearing their opponents by over 20 percentage points. Their strong result demonstrates a firm grasp of current issues in politics and university life. They correctly named several key figures in the University and in the higher education sector in general, evidenced a strong knowledge of Honi’s history, and provided accurate numbers for the amount of SSAF allocated to the USU and SRC in 2020, unlike DRIP. This was no doubt helped by ticket members Ellie Stephenson (who has experience in student politics, including an unsuccessful run for USU Board) and Roisin Murphy (who is the SRC’s current Vice-President, in Labor Left-aligned faction NLS). Stephenson and Murphy also interviewed confidently, demonstrating knowledge (accumulated through, in their words, a “proven track record of left-wing experience on campus”) that will make the steep learning curve of understanding factional, political and university dynamics easier.

However, while CAKE presents as a capable ticket on paper, their track record as a collective poses questions about some of their members, compared to most members of DRIP who have written consistently. In their interview, CAKE dismissed a numerical comparison with DRIP, perhaps because more than half their ticket wrote, at most, one Honi article in Semester 1 (before the pressure of an impending election to rack up bylines). Most articles this year came from the prolific Khanh Tran and Zara Zadro, alongside Robertson at Pulp, pointing to a broader disparity between ticket members – there is only so much that Robertson and Stephenson (and Tran and Zadro) can do to paper over CAKE’s half-baked claims of experience across the board.

In this week alone, five of CAKE’s members retracted articles at a late stage (due to interviews falling through) or submitted articles days (or even a week) after the deadline, even though CAKE are promising policies with tight deadlines such as opening-night reviews. And while election campaigns are tough (or so we hear, we never did one), Honi is an intense commitment which involves forward-planning, good communication and dealing with deadlines during hectic periods. It’s a worrying sign for how CAKE will juggle several things at once next year. 

CAKE seems to be adopting a traditionalist, no-nonsense approach (one candidate’s profile picture caption chided the “personal musings of editors,” which presumably means we won’t expect many perspective or creative pieces under their editorship). Their policy of an “anti-hierarchical” editor-reporter relationship is unusual, given they also claim they are experienced editors who will mentor newer reporters. When pressed, CAKE said that in practice, this amounted to meeting with reporters often and developing reporters’ pitches conceptually, something which is already, we hope, common sense for editors. And it’s unclear how having Sam Randle and Amelia Koen as STEM students on their ticket (while this sets them apart from DRIP) will lead to meaningful representation of science and technology content, or how their “interest” in data journalism is backed up by concrete experience.

Overall, CAKE has members with strong experience in editing campus publications, chasing news and advocating for student issues. They are more promising than their opponent on the critical and investigative side of Honi’s coverage; which despite being less innovative, is indispensable. But, questions remain about their reliability and whether everyone on their ticket can live up to the high expectations they have set for themselves. In terms of electoral success, CAKE is slightly trailing DRIP on social media numbers, though they have whipped up support from the broad left including Stupol establishment in Grassroots and NLS, which may translate into effective campaigners and voters at the ballot box.

You can read the full transcript of CAKE’S interview here.

Disclaimer: Editors Vivienne Guo (a candidate for Council) and Marlow Hurst (involved with DRIP’s campaign) have declared a conflict of interest for election coverage (including this edition) and are not involved in any of the 2021 coverage of Honi Soit, NUS and SRC elections.