The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press, Part Five

“One Team, One Newspaper”

The Founding of Iraq’s Independent Student Press

Part Five: “Thank God We Clashed It Together”

In late January, during his birthday weekend, design editor Yad Faiq sat down and carefully laid out the editorial page for the Voice’s first issue.  And then he redesigned it.  He later redesigned it again.  And again.  And again.  “Yes, it’s true, I designed it five times before settling on a final one,” Faiq said.  “I worked very hard on this.  You should understand, Iraqi newspapers don’t have a particular arrangement or set design.  Things change all the time.  We wanted our paper to look like a newspaper, a real newspaper.”

Over three days, various staff labored at different periods for a total of roughly 36 hours, revising copy, transcribing interviews, creating headlines, editing photos, and perfecting the Voice’s overall look, one they hoped would serve as the foundation upon which to build future issues.

Voice design editor Yad Faiq lays out the first issue, as editor in chief Dana Jaff (left) and senior designer Omer Nihad look on.

They worked under the twin pressures of a tight deadline and fears about letting down Spinner and the school.  Their academic requirements also competed for their attention, including an English Composition exam for editorial page editor Baker Alhashimi scheduled for the day of the newspaper’s planned campus premiere.

With no newsroom space yet set, they worked in multiple spots on campus, inside and out, day and night, through Middle East heat and air-conditioned cold, on school computers and laptops of their own.  They secretly wondered if, in the end, the administration would bar the newspaper from being published.

They continued on.  And as individual stories, and then sections, coalesced into something whole, so did the staff.  “It was the first issue, and our first time to work as a group,” said Alhashimi.  “We are at the same university, but each of us are in different classes and everybody has his own proposal and his own design in his mind.  You have to put all of them together to give only one projection. . . . It was a huge achievement that we did it in just a few days.”

The experience was not without darkness and nearly a few tears.  First, the darkness.  “We almost got locked in a building the first Friday we were here on campus [putting out the issue],” said faculty adviser Jackie Spinner.  “I didn’t know that the generator turned off and that the campus was shut down so I had to make a special call to get them to leave the campus open for another two hours.  Then we moved to the front steps of the building and we worked out there until it was dark.”

Faiq separately recalls working diligently on Quark Express to design a portion of the paper and discovering the next day that a senior designer assisting him had completed another portion of the paper’s layout on Adobe InDesign.  “It was really horrible,” he said.  “I was thinking ‘Oh my God, what are you doing?  These people are waiting for us to finish and it’s half and half and not together.  How am I going to get this into one piece?’  Thank God we clashed it together.  I am not a kid.  I am 20 years old, but that night I still wanted to cry.”

Ultimately, Faiq’s eyes stayed dry and staff completed the final layout, placed it onto a disk, and escorted it to the printer only 30 minutes past deadline.  The Voice’s first scream then sounded in stacks across campus on Sunday, January 31st, the same day as Alhashimi’s exam.  How did he do?  “Don’t worry about me,” he said, laughing.  “I passed.”

The paper’s first issue, by comparison, was not passed up.  All but 20 of the 500 copies were quickly grabbed, or according to one editor passionately “gobbled up,” by curious AUI-S students and staff.  Total printing cost: 75,000 Iraqi dinars, or roughly $60.

On its front page, the paper recounted the university’s first graduation ceremony (above).  It was an event that prompted the provost John Agresto to write words about the school that probably echoed editors’ and Spinner’s thoughts upon seeing the first Voice in students’ hands: “I never actually knew that we would succeed before today.

As expected, the first Voice had hiccups. Yet, amid the occasional spelling, grammar and spacing slips, vague headlines, and text-heavy features, there were a number of newsworthy scoops and high-level sources. The U.S. Ambassador to Iraq was cited announcing a new $1 million student scholarship grant. In an exclusive interview, Agresto revealed a push for an environmental science major that one day might mushroom into a full pre-med program. A separate story presented student response to an announcement by administrators about possibly soon holding classes on Tuesday, previously set aside weekly as a day off.

Most impressively, in issue one, the staff reported (above), conducted a student poll, and, separately, editorialized on a controversial university policy restricting Facebook on campus due to bandwidth limitations.  The editorial opposed the blanket ban, instead suggesting an open access window after classes concluded each day.  As the piece, written by Alhashimi at the behest of the entire editorial board, argued, “Prohibition, deprivation and banning should not be part of AUI-S students’ vocabulary.”

Two weeks after the issue containing the editorial was published, the university began allowing students to access Facebook from a few wireless hot spots on campus.  “I am proud of myself, because we have to discuss the problem,” said Alhashimi.  “What is the difference between nowadays and the days before 2003? Before, we should say everything is right and everything is correct and if we said anything wrong they will put you in jail.  Now as a student, we can say this is right and this is wrong because I believe and the students believe and they should hear our voices.  That’s why we call it the Voice.”

To Be Continued||| Part Six: “They Had Never Seen Something Like This”

Just In Case||| Part One ||| Part Two ||| Part Three ||| Part Four

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