WORONI: What Was and What Could Be

First day, first year and you’ve turned up at our prestigious University ready to be amazed and inspired. That was me, 2015. As part of the bright new world I was discovering, I did what you’ve just done: opened a Woroni. Surely the paper of such excellent students must be just as excellent. But I found my first Woroni to be… okay. There were articles I enjoyed, a few I didn’t, and I quickly moved on to the next exciting part of my O-Week. Perhaps I was too dismissive, or my expectations were too high, but that’s how it was. In the weeks that followed, I heard the name “Woroni” a few more times- mostly just “Woroni? Heard it was a bit crap”. Once, a friend suggested I write something, and I thought, “Hey, that sounds like fun”, and then never followed through. I’m not the only one to have this experience of Woroni, I’m sure; one of idle curiosity, but eventual dismissal. But I kept wondering why I had this experience and eventually I overcame my apathy and started asking: asking students, Woroni writers, and Woroni representatives. I’m surprised to find that what I’ve learned, and what I think, has led me to finally write this article: about Woroni, the past year, and the future.

Woroni could be better. Better than it was last year – a greater diversity of writers, a stronger reading base, more content, better quality of writing. All of these were stated goals of the last editorial group. Some might say there’s only so much you can do with a student paper ‒ it runs on the backs of untrained volunteers. But that doesn’t doom a student paper to mediocrity. Plenty of student papers are actually really excellent, and a centrepiece of student culture. So if Woroni could be more than it was, the question is: What’s the problem, and how do we fix it?

First: it’s really fucking thin. And too many articles are written by the same few students. In the opinion pieces of Semester 2 last year, which had only six short editions, three students between them clocked up a tremendous 12 articles (Matthew Lord on three, Nishanth Pathy on four, and Mark Fabian taking the gold with five). Only the most devoted reader will read every article in Woroni, so for everyone to get a good read out of the thing, there’s got to be a whole lot of different articles from different writers about different stuff. Woroni wants to access the largest possible audience – this is a way to do that.

Of course, “Get more articles” is nothing new. But how? Here’s my take. I could have written for Woroni, but I never did – because I didn’t know how, and nobody told me to. I assumed I wouldn’t be good enough for the qualification process. It never occurred to me that I could just write. The lack of contributions in 2015 was not because of students. There was just no publicity. Besides the closed Facebook group “Woroni Contributors” (which everyone should join), there was no promotion. In 2015 there was only one post on ANU Stalkerspace about student submissions to Woroni (Trust me, I read all of them). This post wasn’t encouraging submissions; it was a highly controversial post about a student’s rejection from print. Last year, the only publicity that Woroni received was controversy. Writing became, to students, not a contribution to the artistic and cultural endeavour of a student paper, but a loaded political action. It is my great hope that this year, through consistent communication and promotion, students won’t see Woroni as a source of scandal, but as a source of quality news, content, features and design.

Second: Quality. Students frequently produce work of high calibre, but it saddens me to see this quality undermined by limiting institutional issues. A frequent writer said of the writers’ experience of sub-editors: “They would literally just wait till the day before deadline … imagine editing your article in two days, or worse, one evening. It needs time.” When I joined the Woroni Contributor’s group (Again, you should all join) I expected a place where Editors and writers discuss good writing technique, article structure ‒ a place to learn about writing and journalism. But it contains only posts requesting articles. There’s a need, this year, to build a community where Woroni staff and writers learn from and support each other, and pursue deadlines as a community. In addition to students and writers, Woroni should communicate with representative groups. I, like many, was shocked to hear that “CRACKED” was almost the title for Woroni’s Mental Health edition. This only happened because at no point was the Disabilities Officer or the Mental Health Committee consulted. Working with other student groups creates quality, relevance, and avoids errors like these, which damage reputation and quite possibly scare off new writers. The good news is, these things can easily improve ‒ and some already are. I was talking with the Woroni Comment Sub-Editor about this article well before the deadline, and have since received excellent constructive feedback and guidance. I am confident that with commitment on the part of the editors, the relationships and community within Woroni can become something exceptional this year.

After hearing these thoughts, the Woroni Board of Editors might be thinking “I already knew this!”, or “This is total rubbish, here’s why…”. I am glad, Editors, if you are thinking either of these things! Sadly, last year neither I nor other students heard Woroni talk about them. There were almost no substantive statements anywhere from Editors concerning their vision, plans, decisions, or anything, and no open meetings where I could find what’s happening and why. Puzzled by this lack of communication, I had a chat with former editor, Vincent Chiang. “Buzzwords”, he said, “are the death of achievement. In elections, people tend to just campaign on buzzwords, like “Engagement, “New Interesting Content, and “Writer Retention” ‒ you need quantifiable goals as an organisation. You need specific policies, with detailed explanations of what they will achieve, but also how you will implement them, step-by-step. Woroni is a community organisation, people need to know what it’s meant to be doing”. This transparency, Editors, is my final recommendation.

Woroni can bring about great positive change this year if you state, in a clear and explicit terms, the plans you have and decisions you make to improve Woroni. Then, and only then, can the student conversation about Woroni change from the apathy and dismissal I felt in first year, to an informed and productive conversation between students and Woroni on the decisions and direction that you, the Editors of Woroni, have chosen for our paper.