The writers’ dream festival

Sarah Webb shares her experience of the National Young Writers’ Festival: Young Journalist Symposium.

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When I first heard the 2014 National Young Writers’ Festival (NYWF) was to be held in Newcastle from Thursday 2 October to Sunday 5 October, my inner writer was begging me to go.

NYWF occurs annually in the city of Newcastle over the NSW Labour Day weekend and is the country’s largest gathering of young, innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms: including blogging, screenwriting, poetry, journalism, prose and more.

The festival presents ‘writing’ in its broadcast sense through panels, workshops, discussions, performances, readings, launches, and installations, giving young writers a place to present their work and share ideas with like-minded people in a friendly festival atmosphere.

I decided to check out the Young Journalist Symposium on Friday 3 October, to hear how this decade’s university graduates are going to shape the media industry – from design to journalism in the digital era.

The symposium gathered together young journalists from many of Australia’s student media publications to discuss the issues facing young journalists and student media publications today.

Student publications in attendance included our very own Yak, as well as Bull Magazine (University of Sydney), Catalyst (RMIT), Farrago (University of Melbourne), Tharunka (UNSW), Vertigo (UTS), and more – all there to hold my budding journalist hands, so to speak.

To begin the session, we sat before a panel discussing ‘design politics’. We all pondered how designers and communication students actually communicate with each other. We took the lead from those who know most about passive-aggressive compliments, and knowing how to use ‘pastiche’ in a sentence.

Farrago Editor, Zoe Efron, said student publications are not only there to inform the student body, but also to give students an option of where they consume news, and designers an opportunity to showcase their work.

“A magazine is what does that really well,” Zoe said. “They often give illustrators a chance to design images because we don’t have art in a newspaper, so we give those people a chance to publish their work in a magazine. We’re showcasing art.”

Ammy Singh, from Tharunka Magazine, said the amount of interest they have had from design students is really exciting.

“I see that design students are becoming more hands-on and involved in the making of the magazine,” Ammy said.

The panel then moved on to the topic of freedom in student publications, as all inevitably have to work within varying degrees of restriction. This year’s editors talked us through the odd curiosities of student media.

Flinders University Media Officer, Stephanie Walker, said in 2009 they printed porn, which was kind of okay, except when they printed it next to an ad. So next to it, it said ‘If you love this porn, then you’ll love this porn…’

And that was just the first we heard of student media controversy from the panel.

Zoe Efron said Farrago Magazine was told at the start of the year that they could ‘nitpick’ what’s actually going to cause controversy.

“You might publish something that you think is going to stir a few pots, but to publish something totally benign will get someone totally wound up, and that happened at Farrago in the ‘For and Against’ section.”

“The topic was Ned Kelly – was he a legend or was he a cop-killer? – that kind of thing. And the guy that emailed us didn’t like the whole piece, because he was so enthusiastic about Ned Kelly and he threatened to sue,” she said.

“We thought it was so funny that we printed it in the ‘Letter to the Editor’ section.”

So student media can be broadly defined by many things. Beyond the clichés of parties and beer, student media is a platform to breed the next crop of emerging journalists.

But who and exactly what is their point? I heard what this year’s editors had to say about finishing journalism degrees, where nearly all avenues point to the fact their industry is shedding its skin.

“Student media is an amazing platform to get into writing,” the panel said.

“It’s helped us pass on our skills to become better writers in the real world. If you’re going to be a journalist – being able to write well and communicate are great skills to have to contribute to any career.”

“Student media is unique, as it allows you to get published and have that experience beforehand.”

‘So you have a publication, now what?’ was the final topic for discussion in the symposium. Throughout the academic year, some students believe it is okay to add to their workload by putting a magazine together.

Putting aside the awkward tidbits of wisdom from student politicians, student media editors are in a privileged position to publish who they want and what they want (usually).

So what happens after one gets the office door key?

I intend on finding that out as I continue to work with the Yak Digital team, and again once I’ve graduated from UON.

Attending the NYWF Young Journalist Symposium was a beneficial experience that allowed me to connect with fellow student journalists, and to witness the fits of laughter stirred by off-topic discussions about porn and Ned Kelly. Not to mention failing to prank nearby news channels by alerting via Twitter of a “uni brawl” on Watt Street.

Image: Tanya McGovern

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