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Reflections on the Shine Awards – by Vivianne Zhang Wei

This week we held our first in-person Shine Awards since the summer of 2019. It was unusual – not merely away from an under-renovation Stationers’ Hall but also a special winners lunch where everyone knew they’d won. But we did it and the joy in the beautiful room at the Guildhall where we met, at being together and celebrating young talent, was palpable.

Before the lunch, Vivianne Zhang Wei, our winner of Editor of the Year 2020 for Two Zero One magazine, spoke to the guests about her time since winning. This is what she said…

The thing about writing when you are young is that your style is just constantly changing. I don’t know about you, but I can barely stand reading things I’ve written like, a month ago. So, this is going to be a bit hard for me…

Today, I thought I’d actually read you the editorial that I wrote for Two Zero One’s Shine Awards entry last year. It’s a bit cringeworthy, but reading it made me think about how the role of us student journalists has changed in the past year and a half.

So, this is what I wrote in April 2020:

“Magazines carry a stigma of flippancy. You might pick one up in your dentist’s waiting room or consider a subscription if also offered a free tote bag, but they are mostly just seen as a way to pass time.

Normally, being unproductive is no big deal. But in a pandemic? Engineers design hospitals, construction workers build them, doctors work twelve-hour shifts in them; even supermarket and delivery workers are out there saving lives. What could possibly be the role of writers, poets, artists, cartoonists, and crossword designers, in a pandemic? Indeed, is there a role for us in a pandemic?

When it comes to saving lives, magazines admittedly aren’t much help. But actually, those of us lucky enough to only be feeling the ripples of the pandemic don’t need our lives saved – just some help getting through them. Affected as we all are by the virus, our symptoms aren’t temperatures, dry coughs, or a loss of taste – but loneliness. And maybe that’s where magazines come in.

Seventy-three years ago, in his novel The Plague, Albert Camus [I know right, quoting Camus, how original of me] wrote something that is of burning relevance today “…there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is common decency.”

Unfortunately, we can’t offer free tote bags, but see the next 60 pages as Two Zero One’s little contribution of common decency. Maybe all it provides you with is a pastime, but we don’t all need to be heroes. Let’s just do what we can to look after each other.”

Reading this now, 18 months later, I realise that I was only half right. It’s true that we don’t all need to be heroes, but I think we student journalists have been incredibly quick to take on larger and larger responsibilities since the pandemic’s early days. This issue of Two Zero One that we produced during the first lockdown, well, it was filled with Netflix recommendations, recipes, at-home workout tips. It was definitely what we needed at the time – but look at all your projects today. You’re providing something much beyond just entertainment.

In the words of the Washington Post, I think you guys really are the “journalism heroes for the pandemic era”.

I don’t think student journalism has ever been just practice for “real journalism”. In the online prizegiving, [Shine Deputy Chair] Richard noted that we are often at the vanguard of topics that mainstream media only adopts months or years later, and I think that has never been truer.

Around the world, student publications have been the first ones to break news about COVID outbreaks on campus, the ones to explain and scrutinise reopening plans, push for transparency from school administrations, and hold them accountable in prioritising our safety. We break down local, national, and global events and debates for our peers; we’ve started conversations about wellbeing and mental health; at university, we’ve pushed for tuition fee and rent cuts, no-detriment grade policies. Mainstream media has several times turned to us for scoops.

If all this is not “real journalism”, I don’t know what is. One might point out that our interest in these issues makes our reporting inevitably biased, but I’d say that equally, it makes it passionate.

We shouldn’t underestimate the value of the work we do, and I’m very grateful that Shine exists to remind us about that. Even though our prizegiving ceremony last year was very different from this, I do really cherish the memory of sitting on Zoom with my friends on a Monday afternoon, doing a countdown together so that we could press play on the YouTube video at the same time. Then we’d unmute ourselves to scream every time we won an award.

And I think we can all agree that seeing the guys at Shine broadcast from their living rooms, determined to give us Shine 2020 no matter what, did a really good job at showing us young, aspiring journalists, what it really takes to be in this industry: humility, courage, imagination…

Which are all things that have brought you here today, so huge congratulations from me. I hope you enjoy your lunch, and I wish you best of luck with your projects in the future.

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