Light in the Darkness

Isabella ZhengSeptember 7, 2021The Media That Raised UsHelping Hands

Artwork by Arina Stetsiuk

Rain splattered relentlessly onto the windowpane and I stared listlessly at my frozen computer screen. I had reached the afternoon of a dreary day of online classes, and it seemed nothing was going right.

The blurred screen only exacerbated the isolation I felt when sitting all alone in an empty house, and my morale continued to plummet. I was locked away in my own world, and, although I desperately craved the company of my friends, I could not bring myself to call them. In a state of conflicting confusion, I longed for connection but was accustomed to the loneliness.

The spinning circle next to my cursor disappeared and the screen slowly thawed into its usual state. Suddenly, I received a message from a friend who eagerly asked if I still wanted to start a newspaper with her. I sighed and sat there in careful consideration. The message was an abrupt surprise amidst a monotonous afternoon, but we had, in fact, discussed the idea long ago. I thought about how we were miles apart, in the midst of a global pandemic, unable to see each other and caught up in the various difficulties that permeated our everyday lives. I was both mentally and physically exhausted; I did not know if I could complete such an immense task. And then my mind drifted back to when we had first brought up this initiative, and I remembered the passion that had fueled me to make this decision — the missions and goals I had so sincerely hoped to achieve. We had aimed to provide a platform for students and adolescents to share their voices in global affairs, to speak up and reflect their full potential in a welcoming environment of vibrant diversity and acceptance. I smiled softly in thought and eventually typed out, “yes.”

Starting a newspaper was even more difficult than I had initially thought it would be. With COVID-19 restrictions challenging in-person newspaper distribution, we opted for an online newspaper model. Creating the website, establishing different departments, gathering writers and editors, receiving the support of teachers and our school, were all feats in themselves. After continuous sessions of online calls, conflicting ideas, pinging notifications, and intense discussion, we finally managed to round up a team of eager student volunteers and formed our eight departments: news and opinion, school, arts and entertainment, humor, lifestyle, features, and advice. Our newspaper was finally established, and we called it The Exchange.

The name itself reflected our objective of running the paper: to unite the fragments of our school identity with a living, breathing publication and provide a platform to showcase the idiosyncratic voices of our local community. By working on The Exchange team, I regained much of the self-confidence, fulfillment, and happiness I had possessed prior to the pandemic outbreak. I was interacting with individuals from a multitude of different backgrounds and cultures, working together to craft stories and share their voices on matters they were truly passionate about. From writer to editor and then to editor-in-chief, I truly experienced the stressful, exciting, overwhelming, and exhilarating moments of working on a newspaper, but even more so, on a team. I felt as if immersing myself in The Exchange and collaborating with all the incredible people around me truly lifted me from the dark hole of confusion and despair I was trapped in. Personally, The Exchange was more than just a newspaper or a culmination of my efforts; it gradually and subconsciously began to heal me.

Yet, beyond impacting me, The Exchange has also helped and shaped many others. It allows individuals to express their thoughts on foreign relations, human rights, and environmental issues around the world. It provides a safe space that enables them to explore their artistic creativity and indulge their imaginations, as well as share interesting facts or useful advice. Most importantly, it strengthens the bonds within our local community. The Exchange has always sought to continue expanding its platform, recruiting new members, and even involving students from other schools to contribute articles and speak up about matters close to their hearts. Through incessant feedback and consequent developments, we have helped numerous writers across various grades gain the confidence to raise their voices and share their knowledge with others.

The Exchange team has received positive feedback from teachers in different departments and contributions from students as young as primary school with eager passion for journalism, providing a supportive platform that encourages them to pursue their aspirations. We have raised awareness for varying social issues, playing our part in informing the community of current affairs and ways we can address these issues. Although The Exchange began as a small project amidst the flurry of the global pandemic, looking back one year later shows it has ultimately grown into so much more. It carries a spark that allows our community to stand firm together, helping individuals achieve their goals through expressing their thoughts, inspiring us to fight for what we believe in and venture onwards into the unknown.

The media has always unknowingly shaped us, influencing our perspectives, views, and understanding of people and events. And newspapers are perhaps one of the most dominant forms of this type of media. The Exchange has allowed individuals within our community to reflect upon this influence and choose their own paths within the continuous cycle of receiving and dispensing knowledge, sharing their beliefs and values. We are truly both a product and reflection of “the media that raised us.”

Isabella Zheng is a 17-year-old from Melbourne, Australia. She is interested in youth activism as well as promoting diversity within local and global communities. Isabella loves reading, playing sports, and trying new foods.