Honi Soit writing competiton. Entries close July 29

What’s in an Honi editor?

To Bloom, and the paper we love so dearly.

Art by Shania O'Brien

For many students who pass through USyd, Honi Soit becomes a rite of passage, a place of growth, a home. I have had the unbelievable joy of editing this paper, and soon I will join the niche club of ex-Honi editors, hopefully on my way to green(er) pastures. Over the years, conversations with former editors during chance encounters at the pub or at random house parties have yielded strange fruits, some bitter, some sweet. Now, as our term comes to a close, there is much to reflect on about the editorship in all its sky highs and bedrock lows. What follows is a somewhat self-indulgent reflection on my time with Honi, that I hope will pierce the mysticism around what it is to be an Honi editor.

It’s fair to say that Honi Soit is widely known as a prestigious student media institution; we are the oldest student newspaper in the country. Many former editors have gone on to become prominent public figures, from politicians to journalists to academics. In some ways, this elite mythos that swirls around this student rag can be daunting for new writers.

Shaking off the nerves of being a first year student, I began writing for Honi in 2019, then edited by Spice for Honi, during my second year of university. I’ve written many articles since, and in doing so have unwittingly sketched a map of the last couple years of my life and the person I’ve become. Each article has a memory attached to it; some of them make me laugh, some of them make me cringe, and some make me so sad that my fingers begin to ache. All of them have helped me take the steps to become who I am today.

As 2019 came to an end, I farewelled Spice for Honi with the hopes that perhaps one day, I’d be able to do for someone what my first editors had been able to do for me: taking me as I am and turning someone as fairly unexceptional as me into a competent writer who thinks more critically about the world than before. With new determination, I set my heart on finding others who loved the paper as much as I did and would, just maybe, want to edit it with me.

***

It has been nearly a century since Honi Soit was first published in 1929, and much has changed in that time; for one, the editorship of Honi is no longer just one person. Today, Honi is typically put together by ten editors, though this is not a hard and fast number. If you have ever run for Honi, you’ll know that it can be a uniquely gruelling process. 

Firstly, ticket formation feels like playing 4D chess with real world consequences, mostly because it is tied into the maelstrom of stupol (shorthand for ‘student politics’ for those of you with a life). For that reason, forming or finding a place on a ticket can be particularly soul-crushing, as editor hopefuls negotiate, jostle and undercut in pursuit of the editorship.

In a sense, Honi is stuck between a rock and a hard place with student politics; there is (and probably will always be) an undeniable entanglement with the ever-shifting web of student politics despite Honi’s commitment to being an independent student media organisation. In my opinion, both can be true. Nothing can avoid being political, and this is particularly true of a student newspaper that is funded by the SRC, and mainly reports on campus political ongoings and activism. While many people who read Honi are stupol hacks, it would also be reductive to say that the only people who read Honi are hacks. In my experience, some of our most dedicated readers range from your university tutors to random classmates to distant USyd alumni (a quick thank you to esteemed author Rowan Cahill for his enthusiastic support of Honi this year).

Honi Soit elections take place in September every year, in line with the SRC Constitution. While the elections aren’t always cutthroat (consider: 2020, when my ticket Bloom for Honi was ushered in uncontested), they can be a real trial by fire. This year was a particularly good example of how painful the elections can be, with two fairly similar Honi tickets jostling for the editorship. It certainly takes having thick skin, adaptability in the face of potential scandals, and a strong passion for Honi to get through the elections – and that’s even if you don’t win. To offer some unsolicited advice for future Honi hopefuls: I would first beg you to write for Honi before you consider running for it.

There are few upsides to the gruelling electoral process, but I would point out one particularly significant one; as tickets form and elections steadily approach, editor hopefuls are forced to clarify their political vision, the dreams that they have for the paper, and are challenged with new ideas, scenarios and conflicts that can make or break you. As the year came and went, myself and my fellow editors learned to work together, different as we are, and back each other up. I am grateful for the uniquely fierce love of being on an Honi ticket.

Now, looking past the finagling of ticket formation and elections, there are a few structural issues to the position that pose difficulties to editor hopefuls. Year after year, Honi editors are forced to grapple with subpar working conditions in our subterranean dungeon (aka the Honi Office), terrible pay, and the issue of sinking huge amounts of time into the paper. None of these issues are really a secret, though perhaps those outside the Honiverse may be unaware as to the specific difficulties of the position.

The meagre stipends of the Honi editors have long been a source of frustration for the editors. The job never stops, beholden to a rigorous 24/7 news cycle, but the hours that Honi editors work are never fairly compensated. Every year, Honi editors apply for better stipends from the SRC’s contestables (in which the SRC has to compete with other more profitable organisations like Sydney Uni Sports and Fitness for additional funding). Every year, we are shot down.

To make a conservative estimate, the average Honi editor does around twenty to thirty hours of work pertaining to the paper every week, making just under $100 a week as compensation. Overlooking the time we spend researching, writing and editing, as well as attending meetings and doing other administrative tasks, there is little time to pause and take a breath. Every year, many of us postpone our studies or shift to part-time, but for those of us who rely on Centrelink or are international students, full-time study is an unavoidable reality. The myriad difficulties of supporting yourself while editing the paper mean that many, especially students from low-SES backgrounds, are locked out of the position. While I personally have been fortunate enough to be able to move back to my family home during the duration of my term, I know others may not be so lucky.

Assuming that you’ve now made it through the elections and are sailing into the dingy dungeon that we call an office, get ready to sacrifice your weekends for a year! Every weekend, ten Honi editors can be found holed up in the SRC frantically editing and laying up their edition. While I can’t speak for previous years of editors, my ticket Bloom would typically be in the office by midday. Accounting for lunch and dinner breaks, most of us wouldn’t be out of the office until about 1am, sometimes setting off the fire alarm in the back of the SRC. If you’re like me and you don’t live locally, getting home can be a real pain in the ass. Locality really makes a difference with the editorship.

While issues arise every week, whether it be missing articles or a fun little server crash,  an edition lands on the virtual desk of the Publications Managers every Monday like clockwork. There have been a fair few editions where we’ve had to make last minute changes, assisted by bestie and current Publications Manager Mickie, but we always get it done.

A few more things of note before I wrap up, maybe for the last time: as an Honi editor, you will face endless scrutiny and no small amount of criticism. Sometimes the criticism is completely fair and solicited, but other times it can be particularly bad faith and hurtful. This is simply part and parcel of being in the public eye, and you will need to take it in stride. The resilience you develop along the way will serve you well, but I would warn against being obstinately self-assured. Part of being an editor means figuring out your politics, being challenged by new ideas and most importantly, being able to admit when you are wrong. We are, after all, just students.

***

Looking at something in the rearview mirror is a strange feeling. I don’t know what I’ll do now to fill the quiet of empty Sundays. I find it hard to put my finger on exactly what I’ll miss most about editing Honi. Perhaps it’s the long, late nights, or the feeling of stumbling bleary-eyed to my car, still laughing quietly at an inside joke. Perhaps I’ll miss the moments and jokes that have become lore, many of which involve me being relentlessly teased by my fellow editors. Or perhaps I’ll miss the quiet moments the most: reading aloud to Bloom about the enigma of octopuses as the office fills with the droning click-clack of articles taking form, walking to the Rose Hotel or Pastizzi Cafe for lunch, or even the second of silence before the sound of an inflating balloon fills the room. It certainly won’t be the various moulds that sprang up over the year, or the one time I caught a whiff of puke in the Gosper Room. 

When it’s all over, I know I’ll miss my second home; not just the office where I’ve laughed, written, fretted and cried, but the paper and the people I’ve met and loved along the way.

Our term ends tomorrow, and so I bid farewell to Honi and all its wonderful contributors. Honi, I have come to learn, is just a patchwork effort of imperfect people who nonetheless are deeply passionate about student journalism and more broadly this unique period of life marked by global catastrophes, unfulfilled dreams, and cascades of loss. 

I wish only the best for Honi editors to come, and hope that you’ll consider that the legacy of the paper is not only the writing that comes out of it, but also the community that blooms from the dizzying effort of putting together a weekly student newspaper.

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