I’ve been writing and editing Comment for felix for years, and it’s my strongly held opinion that a student newspaper without opinion is not a student newspaper worth having. University is a time when we’re all growing up, finding ourselves and forming our beliefs, and a huge part of this process is a lot of active consideration of everything we thought we knew. Trust me, I’ve really been dragging this process out: I’ve been here for nearly a decade.
I write Comment in pursuit of wider discussion. I’m open to having my opinions changed – as has happened many times – and I’m equally happy for someone to form an opposite view to mine. I choose to write about things that are worthy of discussion, regardless of anyone’s take on them.
I’ve run the Comment section of felix such that no one would ever be personally targeted. Regardless of whether an article was about someone’s actions or in response to their ideas, I firmly believe that it should not be a personal attack. Anyone can write Comment – the only qualification you need is to have an opinion – but as a good Comment writer, you often write in a deliberately inflammatory way, making your opinions seem far more controversial than they are. After all, no one wants to read their own bland views echoed thousands of times around campus.
As a result of this, a lot of my articles are commented on, and I’m often sent emails or challenged to discussion. I welcome this: engagement with the ideas is my aim. I don’t write from a narcissistic desire to see my name in print, or because I think I have the ultimate final say on a topic. However, until this year, I’d never felt that it was me personally being attacked, only the opinions that I’d put on paper. If I made typos or did a poor job of editing, it didn’t really have any impact on the way the content was received, because the production of felix is not expected to be the same as a mainstream newspaper. Pointing out typos has always been fun, of course, but in all my years at Imperial I’ve never seen it used as an argument to degrade the content until this year.
I, like many others, give up huge amounts of time to make sure that felix is run smoothly and all submitted content from students is developed such that it can be brought to fruition in print. Along with dozens of other volunteers and a full time editor (whose working hours, year on year, regularly exceed 60 or 70 or 80 hours a week) I spend many, many hours in a basement poring over style guides and InDesign files, fact-checking and editing content. It’s never perfect, but that doesn’t matter. I’m incredibly proud of every article that goes to print, whether it’s the Music section, Sport, or Clubs and Societies; whether it was written by me, someone I know, or someone I’ve never heard of.
I have put my heart and soul into felix for years, and I am incredibly protective of the paper and the people who dedicate their time to making it. I absolutely condemn anyone who does not respect the work this takes, and who dismisses and degrades the content that we – untrained volunteers – create for the student body, whether they do so as part of a personal vendetta or a superiority complex manifesting as a lack of empathy and disregard for the very real humans who are behind the words. Sadly, this is what has happened this year, and through various media I feel that as a result of my association with felix, I, along with others, am being unfairly criticised, attacked, and dragged into petty arguments that I have no involvement in. This is abhorrent and I cast incredibly strong aspersions on anyone who thinks that it is appropriate to (without evidence) attack the many for fear of directly criticising the few. A fear that, perhaps, could be well justified, if vague unsubstantiated insults are the the only critique that can be provided.
Some of our articles are incredibly well written, and take a lot of work. This year we had three articles shortlisted for the Student Publication Association Awards – including two of mine – while one of our members was shortlisted for Best Reporter. This while competing against thousands of entries from students all over the country. Most of these students study Journalism or English and are trained to structure and colour their writing, training that we do not have. Our success is a huge achievement that I am immensely proud of. For me personally, writing and later preparing one of my shortlisted articles for entry was extremely traumatic and I am indebted to the rest of the felix team for supporting me through the process that I put myself through because it was an incredibly important story to tell. To generically denigrate our achievements is to diminish the work of many who worked hard on their entries and is to dismiss the often powerful stories and personal struggles that formed those articles. Frankly, that is rude and uncalled for.
The felix office has become my home and the people involved have become my family. Contrary to popular belief, we’re not an echo chamber. We’re an opinionated, argumentative group with a vast array of experiences, ideas, and political affiliations. I’m proud to have been involved with felix for so long, and to have had the opportunity to have been shaped by my interactions with hundreds of people who are brought together by a mutual respect and a desire to create and share ideas. Years of editing Comment have trained me to respect all opinions and to consider things from a neutral perspective. I believe that opinion can change the world, but unwarranted and unconstructive hate is not a valid opinion. It is a personal attack, and it is not something that I will fail to condemn in my student newspaper nor elsewhere at my university. By all means, I would encourage everyone to raise any concerns in an appropriate and respectful way, but it is never appropriate to use a grudge as an excuse to make malicious attacks on uninvolved students. I hope whoever takes up the torch at felix next year feels the same way, so that we can have an engaging dialogue while ensuring that discussions don’t needlessly deteriorate into unprovoked attacks.