Why we wanted to get involved in that boring subject called politics
What do you do when the unthinkable happens? Twice in 2016, I awoke to that question after a long night of dozing and starts in front of rolling news coverage. That now infamous morning on November was a haze of nagging dread and disbelief. What now?
At midday driving through the streets of Sunderland to get to St Peter’s campus, the roads were still sleepy. The radio chat was of aching voices, all echoing the same shock. Nobody could understand how it had happened. Nobody understood how America could have chosen a man who had been caught on tape bragging about sexual assault as president. Trump represented erratic bigotry. He threw out slurs and hatred at each rally, and gave different promises with every speech. Nobody knew what that would mean, but hope had been extinguished. The helplessness that Remainers had felt in the summer had trebled; there was some comfort in knowing that Brexit was an isolated event — that was our country’s choice alone but now there was guilt. Had Brexit inspired a wider lurch to the right?
It was fitting that my reaction was to want to surround myself with my peers at Sunderland university. In July, Sunderland unexpectedly felt the global spotlight. The New York Times even wrote on how this poor city had voted overwhelmingly for Brexit despite the pain it would inflict, and now we were looking at the US and muttering the same shock about their choice.
On days like those nothing gets done. Our tutor gave up in defeat and for our three-hour session, he threw out the lesson plan to discuss business models and gave us the time to vent, rage, and almost cry over the state of everything; from Trump, Brexit, climate change, marginalisation, the economy and to the silencing of young people. The (ever annoyingly hot) IT suite was filled with a buzzing rage that choices were being made for our futures without our consent. Unless journalists on the campus speciailise in politics, it’s not an everyday conversation people usually have, but now that changed. It was the only topic that mattered. The political discourse had failed our generation, and as aspiring journalists there was a feeling of betrayal.
Perhaps I should revise my statement, because while it seemed as though nothing was achieved (except venting) a seed was planted. The five of us left that MA session feeling just as angry as before, yes, but also curious; perhaps if we worked there was something we could do.
If there was any chance the Christmas break or January exams and deadline stress would distract us from the goings on of the world then it was quickly shattered when Trump confirmed he would stick by his promises, including building the wall in Mexico, and May offering nothing but a hard Brexit at any cost so long as it curbed migration. The world was burning on hate, and we’d had enough.
This semester we were tasked with creating a magazine — just one — and we could choose the groups. It was a nice project; to test our design skills and our journalistic dedication but it just wasn’t satisfying. We wanted more than doing what was easy for the marks. The five of us banded together and came up with one vision: Stand Up. Never was this going to be a one magazine project, this was about getting the magazine out there to thousands of people and trying to change. This was starting our own movement, and amplifying silenced voices. We don’t have the millions in the bank that most magazines do; we actually have a grand total of zero but we have resources around us and we’re all working around the clock. The UK feels at a crisis point and quite simply, we have to do something for all of our futures.
We want to get involved with directing the narrative of the UK, but we want other people our age to feel empowered to do the same. Our writing will reflect that; we’ll list events going on around the country and find new (and accessible ways) for people to engage in politics.
The challenges though, do go beyond money - but let’s face it, that’s always going to be a major stumbling block for any start up. In my course, I could not have asked for a better team. We’re loud, we have different likes but there’s an unwavering respect that means we can debate different ideas. It’s also just fun with these guys. To be honest, university gets in the way of our group chat — but there was a major problem of a project of this nature being handed to five people who just happen to be on the same course. We’ve got great representation of gender, disability, sexuality but we’re all white. In a political magazine, that’s just a major question mark against us from the beginning and rightfully so.
Coming up with a plan to try to make this magazine as intersectional as possible became even more critical, and from that very fundamental level it might not even be possible. We could just ignore race because none of us can talk about it without risking talking over people, but that means we end up with a magazine that only reflects whiteness and then what’s the point?
So we go back to the core of journalism and we do it right. Have you ever noticed that with almost every allyship thinkpiece, whether it be about race, trans rights, women’s rights, whatever, that the ally who penned it always has to put in somewhere “I’m so shocked that this is happening”. I don’t know when journalism came about “I”, the individual, but it’s not supposed to be, unless offering profound insight. For example: a marginalised person commenting on their experiences. An ally commenting on their experiences of others suffering and how shocked they are doesn’t count. Stand Up then needs to utilise our journalists by using us to amplify silenced voices. We’re just a means to an end for community workers, volunteers, unsung heroes etc to have their voices heard. We write for them. If we were a panel show, then we’d be the guys picking who would speak on the panel and then recording it for them. A journalist should be able to step away from themselves, it’s about the people they’re interviewing and the story at hand after all, not about us.
We are seeking out as many diverse sources as possible. You know a disabled march we could feature? Great, but did the trans woman of colour find the march a safe space? Body positivity? Excellent, are there visibly disabled people in the movement?
Journalism is complicit in the rise of the far right across the UK, Europe and the US by pandering to the right wing at the expense of marginalised people. This cannot happen here.
We are constrained by the remit of the project. Not many magazines start out in this way. We have a single issue Brexit special to deliver which is for our MA (but about so much more than that). However, if successful we are keen to make this a monthly fixture. If the desire for the magazine is there, after the first issue there’s a lot more freedom. We can expand our team and hire more diverse writers. Until then, we have to prove that this is a respected outlet people can trust, so that they want to be associated with the brand.
If we raise a profit, then that will go to paying our writers. I don’t agree with any organisation who doesn’t pay their writers (and I’ve worked at many outlets I respect and admire without pay). I’m not too proud to ask for donations so I can give money to my staff. They work damn hard and they deserve paying. Writers’ wages are an intersectional issue; those who are expected to work for free are often marginalised in some way. While middle class politicians can walk into a journalism job at a respected outlet, get paid hundreds or thousands for eight hour working weeks, marginalised writers are struggling to make it above the poverty line.
I’m immensely proud of our ambitions, which were inspired by one university deadline. Hey, people are always talking down the work ethic of students, right? Well, we’ve got a huge uphill battle to climb so we can get credibility and funding, but we’re doing this because it’s simply right. We have an opportunity to try, we may never get access to design equipment like we have at the university. Just maybe, we might be able to empower a few people, or inspire a few young people to take action against fascism or stand in solidarity with marginalised people. Hannah, Siarlot, Alice and Lee have also made quite a frightening reality actually a challenge to relish. Most of the team didn’t get into journalism because of politics, but this kind of magazine is exactly why we chose this career because it’s founded on the belief that writing and broadcasting can change the world. It’s up to us to decide how we’re going to use that chance to try to make things better.
Over to your questions….
Will your magazine feature feminist advertising?
Yes, although this is our kind of default mode (and it should be for every publication anyway). We want to empower young people and it wouldn’t work to have something antifeminist feature in Stand Up. Not one of us would want that kind of content there anyway!
What has been your hardest decision?
We were offered a pretty amazing advertising deal, and it’s very early in the day for something like that. There’s a temptation just to run with it when you get an offer but it didn’t quite fit our brand. We’re going to be very content heavy, there’s not going to be a great deal of ad space in our magazine and so the link up didn’t quite marry at that moment. There may be a future deal of a different nature but it’s about having the steel to say “this isn’t quite right for us” and not just see the short-term potential and dive in at the expense of the long-term goal.
What has been the easiest consensus?
That if I forget to bring the chocolate to the next editorial meeting I’m out.
Will Stand Up be featuring youth councils as a general overview or as a regular feature?
Youth councils are definitely what we’re watching and no doubt will be a great source for some of our content. Their achievements are fantastic and we do want to celebrate people getting on and trying to change things. Our brand though is looking to young people who feel overwhelmed and left behind. We want to give them a voice and find new ways of engagement. People in the youth councils are doing fantastic work, but that’s their outlet and they are engaging through that. It’s the young people who might want to join a youth council but don’t even know they exit that we’re primarily targeting. Their presence is likely to be more generic then and mentioned potentially in a range of articles rather than just having one youth council feature.
Editor, Stand Up