An Editor's View
When ex-Financial Times journalist Lesia Scholey agreed to deliver the spring summer 2020 issue of TEP’s Talk of the Thames magazine, she had no idea that she’d find herself gathering articles whilst the world went into lockdown. Having informally joined the TEP team in early March, she plunged straight into the project (like everyone else, from home) and published the magazine on time on July 1. Here she speaks about her experience:
Often we feel overwhelmed by global problems and think there’s not much we can do to change the world. Or, if we feel that we can help, it’s only a drop in the bucket. Sigh, why bother.
But when it comes to efforts to help improve the environment, something is always better than nothing. Because trying to achieve a big goals like a cleaner river or wildlife diversity or a sustainable and resilient Thames Estuary for the future takes many hands on deck and many years of trying.
So when I was approached to help deliver the next Talk of the Thames, I jumped straight on the assignment. Here was one thing I could do, one way I could add value – use my journalism skills to promote science and ecology and good policies and cooperation. Here was an opportunity to help an organisation that’s beyond worthy because of all the good it does in these respects. Here was my chance to do my bit!
Admittedly, it’s tricky to wade into any new subject matter, especially if you can’t meet or interview anyone face to face and everyone’s busy dealing with unprecedented crisis. I had to believe that I could get through by focusing on the basics – organise, write, edit and proof. Be persistent. But the job was also about being able to create a vision. Because producing a seamless and succinct magazine, one that successfully communicates a raft of ideas and holds together as a coherent issue, requires brainstorming and creativity, as well as careful crafting, planning, structuring and compiling.
It took some weeks to get my head around the who’s-who of contributors and align and shape their incoming topics to make sure all copy came in correctly and on time. Then came editing, or re-writing (and more correspondence back and forth), because as anyone in the trade can tell you, all writing is re-writing. So it takes many drafts to get things right. And in the end, text can’t just be factually correct, language has to have some style.
A month or two into the process, I began thinking in terms of images too, as contributors sent in graphics and photos. Pages had to be created, and they all had to be balanced, illuminating and attractive, individually and as a group. Too much text here, not enough colour there? Headlines too long, maybe sentences need breaking up? These were the kinds of decisions that began to weigh in, and finally, the big one: what to put on the front cover?
I’m particularly happy with the image that we chose, as there was great input from the TEP team, including the photo itself, which was a roommate’s personal shot along the river. As it’s supposed to, the cover was chosen to reflect our content, and I think it did that perfectly! Empty row boats show both abandonment and promise, as the city lingers on the horizon past shining blue waters. What better symbol for where we were in spring/summer 2020, as the world ground to a halt and all we could do was dream of what lies ahead?
And what of the inside? It’s always tricky assembling a coherent whole made up of various components, and our issue’s main theme was a combination of two distinct but interrelated topics: the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and what our members were doing about them, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, how that was impacting everyone and their attempt to deliver these SDGs. Though we’d agreed on the topic of UN SDGs many months before, we couldn’t simply ignore how the pandemic and lockdown was affecting our projects and TEP members.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t all bad news to report. From environmental gains, like cleaner water and wildlife returning upriver, to the unprecedented efforts of the TEP team to turn real-life boat trips into virtual tours, there was much to shout about. I felt proud to be helping to report inspiring news and trends and perform a public service – because an informed and engaged public is critical to any action or improvement on environment in the future. Certainly, many of our partners, from the Environment Agency and Port Health Authority to Tideway and ZSL, had incredible stories to tell about how they continued to carry on during these daunting times. Ordering these varied experiences and organising the flow of the magazine was another aspect of the work, and I hope you’ll agree, a real success!
I might say that in the end came the boring bit – proofing, which requires poring endlessly over the same images and text to find mistakes. If you’ve never done it, you’d be shocked at how late in the game you can still find every kind of error, from glaring bloopers to tiny typos. But that’s also the time when determination is key. Like a marathoner on that 25th mile, you have to dig deeper and keep going, even if it seems like a never-ending, same motion over same terrain. And just like a long race, getting over the finish line and pulling out a victory is exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
I’m incredibly grateful to have had the chance to contribute to TEP and complete this project. Putting out a magazine is but a small attempt at furthering the Thames story, reporting realities, highlighting positives and negatives. The negatives, like ongoing plastic pollution, are themselves just problems that still need addressing, work that still needs doing. Hopefully by putting it all out there in the public domain and for its members to share, TEP can inspire others to help.