Where the biggest value is the quality of the Hungarian language – BME and the ‘Workshop’
It was when I visited the editorial of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics that I realised for the first time of how much value the ability to use their mother tongue at a high level really is for a university student today. The ‘Műhely’ magazine has been aiming to be amongst the best since 2003. I talked to Zsolt Szabó, the head editor of Műhely about the magazine.
How did you become the head editor of the magazine?
During my university years, I was working for the Educatio Press Educational News Agency. I was reporting on education and youth policy and I was regularly getting information from the universities of Budapest, like BME. Thanks to this, I was always in contact with the directorate of the university and also with the Head of the student representatives of the time. When the student representatives of BME came up with the idea of the magazine, I was right at hand and I possessed enough professional knowledge as well as contacts.
How does university journalism work?
The work of editorials is based on the same principles all over the world. We do not do it any other way either. Naturally, we have our unique solutions, given that our journalists’ primary goal is to graduate. The time they spend with the magazine can only be limited to their free time.
At the moment, we work with about 30 journalists. This is the number that guarantees the working of the Műhely. Otherwise, about 4-5 full time journalists could easily fill it with content.
How many copies come out of the Műhely each month?
What kind of topics do your articles and interviews cover? Is there a standard trend that you are following?
The biggest strengths of the Műhely are its interviews, reportages and reports around public topics. We are here in the heart of Hungary, in Budapest, where all the public events are concentrated. Just think about it: the majority of political and other social organisations are operating here, in our capital and 90% of them are in reachable distance for our journalists to be able to participate in them.
Our readers are primarily Hungarian citizens, therefore, I feel that it is our responsibility to write about more than just student life. We deal with the refugee crisis, the situation in the Middle East and even with the pension system.
Of course, we report on the current issues of our university as well.
Besides, our readers are really fond of our literature section. Anybody can send in their writings and we make sure to publish the best pieces.
Do you see any difference between online and printed press?
Online publication requires extreme speed and this often does not come with quality. You have to have a huge routine to be able to work fast and of a good standard at the same time. I think that beginner journalists are not able to do this.
When it comes to student online journalism, I can say that although there have been some very good initiatives, what is basically missing from these journalists is routine and experience. I think that for young and beginner journalists, it is a challenge to prepare even a weekly magazine, let alone an online news portal where new content is uploaded every few hours. Naturally, I do not consider those websites that only produce new content in every 2-3 days online news portals.
Who can join you?
Every semester, we hold a journalist training for the students of the university that normally consists of 12-14 occasions. It is not a secret that the aim of the training is to gain new members for our team.
It is an excellent writing skills training. Normally, the number of the applicants is between 25 and 40. The course is very practical. Your writing skills can only be developed if you write a lot. Week after week, we give a lot of tasks to our students. We continually correct these and give feedback to the participants. We give them plenty of professional advice. Our course is not a walk in the park. Those applicants who are not dedicated to writing normally drop out during the first weeks due to the workload. At the end of the course, we normally choose 2-3 people to work amongst us.
The newly chosen journalists get continuous help after becoming a member of our editorial team. To quote one of my colleagues: “We throw people into the deep waters, but before that, we teach them how to swim and if necessary, we even provide them with life jackets.”
As a head editor, what values do you stand for and what do you expect from your colleagues?
I tell them the rules of the game that I expect from myself and from them right at the beginning. I never give out a task that I would not be able or willing to complete. It is important that whatever difficulty they are facing, they should let me know right away so that we can solve them together. I am trying to give a lot of feedback to the columnists, since this is one of the bases of quality work. From my columnist, I expect to send regular feedback to our journalists about the quality of their work.
In the life of a magazine, keeping to deadlines is indispensable. If somebody takes on a task, they have to deliver it on time and to a certain quality. This is one thing that is not up to debate.
Do you have any kind of connections to other university editorials within the EU?
At the moment, we don’t. In order to realise this, we would have to put together a separate team, the members of which would only be dealing with this. Unfortunately, our capacities are not enough for this at the moment. Although the demand is always there to provide a page for our international students, but we always end up realising that our sources are limited.
However, if one or more of our journalists are doing a scholarship semester in another country, we usually try to benefit from this and ask for reports. These materials can always complement a more comprehensive article very well.
From your experience, do those who have worked for the university editorial normally choose a similar career after they graduate or they try to get a job according to their degree?
Brigitta Kocsis-Meriadt, our previous columnist currently works for the Duna TV - she is the editor and presenter of a programme called Novum. Zita Tímár-Seidner is the inner communications assistant of a company. Zsófia Hámori, who used to work for us as a photographer currently works for Index, if I am not mistaken, and owns a photo studio. Besides them, quite a few of our previous journalists write a blog or contribute to online magazines. But they are the minority.
For a long time, I did not understand why students in their last year come to our trainings in spite of the fact that they do not want to work as a journalist either at our editorial or anywhere else. Then, during conversations with them, I found out that they feel that for their future jobs, writing skills and communicational skills are indispensable. At our trainings, people can acquire these. However, where and how they want to benefit from it is their decision. However, one thing I am quite sure of is that today in Hungary, to be able to use the Hungarian language in writing and in speech at a high level is of a huge value and is something that not many people are capable of anymore.
Written by Tupi Zsófia
Translated by Judit Molnár
Photos: Garry Knight