Pride, Publication, Persistence: The Confessions of a Grapeshot Editor

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Running a publication is no easy task. Nathan Li shares the deadly pride of his editorship through the ups and downs and all that makes it seem like the work is never enough. 

WORDS Nathan Li

It is a bizarre feeling when I walk around the campus during the day. Walking among people is not what I am used to doing at university. The only time I have to do this is for that one weekly tutorial – and I make sure I march through it to save valuable time. The campus I know is one that is vacant in the early morning when I arrive and late at night when I leave. What happens in between – I sit before this small computer screen, trawling through emails, words and images in the office. I love what I do. I am proud that I am doing it. For me, work is essential to living. The scope of my work and involvement with Grapeshot is not something that I think anyone could easily understand and sympathise with. “That arrogant bastard thinks he’s the editor-in-chief and on top of the world,” I imagine you’d say. The truth is, being in the position that I am, I do need to understand, keep in touch and stay on top of the world – at least the one that concerns my audience. Oh and did I mention I am a Leo?

Putting a publication together is no easy task. It requires the contribution and collaboration of many. It takes tremendous amounts of time, effort and patience. Editing is a process of producing a meaningful collection of meaningful texts. To do so, I make sure I am surrounded by the best and learn from them. I am grateful to have such a large editorial team this year. There are the writers, editors and designers – all playing their part in the big picture of each issue, but eventually, I am the one to have the final say. The publication, by and large, reflects my vision and standard. It is my responsibility to sign off and approve for printing before it goes out and up for scrutiny by the public. My sense of ownership for the publication is huge and terrifying.

Being an editor requires me to understand my audience and the world we are in. We have to understand the culture we come from, and adapt and play a role in it. Victor J. Carroll, a distinguished Australian editor (former Fairfax editor for Australia Financial Review, National Times and Sydney Morning Herald) and recent recipient of honorary doctorate from Macquarie University, highlights the importance for an editor of knowing the market “the first requirement is to know its market, to know who you want to read this publication, and to know the important elements of that market, to know what students are all about and their interests are.” Carroll tells me that I must identify with the magazine. The key to this is to stay curious. “The essential ingredient to all journalists is curiosity – you have to be curious about things,” he says.

To strive for the best publication, I also have to become the best person I can be, both professionally and emotionally. Being an editor can be a daunting job. “It’s exhausting; it’s the most exhausting profession,” Carroll proclaims. Yet I deeply understand, even in extreme situations, that I can’t fall – can’t afford to fall – not before I have empowered and brought up others to do my jobs. The publication reflects my vision and application of my aesthetic. It projects my understanding of the world. I try to expand my understanding as much as possible by collaborating with the team, students and university staff and paying attention to what’s going on around the world. My ego, however is the ultimate gate to pass. Sometimes it can be so strong that it rejects any seemingly hostile or uninformed ideas.

The dark side of being an editor is devouring. I constantly go through anger, anxiety, frustration and depression. Angry with myself, frustrated by others, I am always anxious and depressed that I might not be able to meet my deadlines and do a good enough job. I may have tried to resolve it in the most rock ‘n’ roll way – sex, drugs and alcohol – but I know that I am never done. Not just yet. The most famous editor-in-chief in the world, Anna Wintour of American Vogue, revealed in The September Issue that her father Charles Wintour quit his editing career because he became too angry and that she should probably do the same. It’s still early in my life now to determine an exit path. All I know is that, no matter how difficult it is, when I go to sleep and wake up the next day – it is hard to get out of bed, but I always manage to – it is a new beginning and the work I have taken as my way of living goes on.

I am not infallible, but I don’t intend to fall for anything that would challenge my legitimacy and legacy of being the editor-in-chief of this year’s Grapeshot. Such pride that I hold for my job is dangerous and, indeed, deadly. “I think pride is to be avoided,” Carroll argues. “I think [an editor] wakes up every morning and looks at what is produced and dies a little when you think what you could’ve been done better. I’ve never seen a perfect publication.”

Carroll also says that while at times we can be pleased with the work that is done, we can never be proud. There is always scope for improvement. The sky is the limit. This is especially true nowadays, when editors seem to have bigger shoes to fill. “In modern journalism, the editor sees himself or herself as also a publisher – that is concerned with revenues – as much as the editorial content of the publication,” explains Carroll. There’s never enough to satisfy the readers, the advertisers, and really, myself as the editor.