Student writer quizzes alumna
Siddharthiya Pillay is a current student in the School of Social and Political Science, and she won this year's Cultural and Creative Careers Festival journalism competition. Part of her prize was a chance to work-shadow Arusa Qureshi - Editor of The List and an Edinburgh graduate of English Literature - and to interview her for Enlightened. Here's what she found out about life as an arts editor.
SP: What was your experience at the University like? In what extra-curricular activities did you take part?
AQ: I really enjoyed my time at the University of Edinburgh and I'm so glad that I was able to study English Literature because the department is brilliant. I was taught by some really inspiring professors and PhD students, who always encouraged me to pursue the topics I was most interested in (i.e. doing my dissertation on hip hop). While at Edinburgh Uni, I was in the Female Voice Choir for four years and also helped manage a blog created by the English Lit department and PhD students, where undergrads could submit writing for informal feedback, which would then get published on the site.
SP: You are an alumna of Edinburgh, and The List partnered with the Creative and Cultural Careers Festival. How has maintaining this link added value to your career?
AQ: I'm really proud that we're able to partner with the CCCF, and hope that I can continue to maintain this link with the University going forward. As an alumna, I think it's important to encourage and support students that are in the position I was in only a few years ago, especially those who may feel anxious about their future, as I certainly was at that time.
SP: How did your career start?
AQ: My background is mostly in music journalism and I had been writing for random blogs and websites for some time before I got in touch with The List. I became a regular music freelancer before I started my Masters in Magazine Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University, and then when it came time to doing my placement for the course, I was able to apply for a spot at The List. My placement was in events, so not related to what I wanted to do at all! But it was brilliant because from there, I worked my way around various departments, becoming part-time then full-time a few months later. I did events, subscriptions, distribution, admin and more before I was finally able to apply for a job as a Content Producer. Then when the former Editor left last year, I applied for her job and was lucky enough to be given the chance to take on the role.
SP: As an undergraduate, did you envision this specific career for yourself, or were you open to other options?
AQ: Working at a publication like The List was always a dream of mine but I didn't ever think that I'd become the Editor, or at least, not for a while! I had done various placements and internships at magazine publishing companies and I knew that this was the industry I was most interested in. But I was always open to doing other things and certainly kept an open mind in terms of opportunities that came up.
SP: I’m sure every day is different and exciting, but what would be an average day in the life of a magazine editor?
AQ: Every day is different but I spend a lot of my time planning and organising (for future issues and current coverage), commissioning articles for print and online and staying in touch with clients and contacts that work with The List. I also attend events regularly to represent The List and meet with PRs often to stay on top of news, releases and events. It's a really varied role and often unpredictable but that's what I love about it!
SP: Speaking of exciting, what have been the highlights of your career?
AQ: I've only been the Editor of The List for a year but in that time, I've had some wonderful experiences. My highlights have been interviewing SOPHIE for the cover of one of our August issues, travelling to Estonia to cover Tallinn Music Week and curating the line-up of the opening night of the upcoming Hidden Door Festival.
SP: What can be challenges or low points?
AQ: When I became the Editor, one of the things I was most concerned about was people not taking me seriously because of my age. But the team I work with have been beyond amazing and so supportive. Unfortunately, externally I still come up against some resistance but I've learned to navigate that and have become more confident in my role as a result. Other challenges I face on a daily basis include writers missing deadlines, events being cancelled after we've planned coverage, people taking offence to negative reviews and staying ahead of the curve when everything is so instantaneous because of social media.
SP: What advice would you give graduates looking to enter this industry as journalists (and perhaps editors at some stage)?
AQ: Be open to all experiences, regardless of whether it's in your specific field or not. Do your research and apply for placements, internships and roles, even if it's in an area you're not specifically interested in because learning how a company works is just as important. Join groups like the Scottish Youth Parliament and take part in as many events and opportunities as you can or start your own project if you're struggling to find ways to enter the industry. Don't work for free for long periods; know your worth and make sure you get paid for the work you do. It's never ok to exploit young journalists!
SP: What keeps you motivated in your job?
AQ: My passion for arts and culture and my desire to shout about all the amazing things that are happening in Scotland keep me motivated. There are so many talented people making phenomenal work in Scotland at the moment and they deserve attention. Also, I work with some lovely people who keep me motivated (and entertained) in the office on a daily basis!
SP: Do you do a lot of writing, and if so, do you have a favourite spot for this?
AQ: Although the majority of my time is spent planning and organising, I still make sure I set aside some time for writing, especially about music. My favourite place to write is at home, with my cat Begbie sat by my side.
More to read
Siddharthiya winning article was also published in The List. You can read it here:
Hebridean Treasure: Lost and Found (external)
Cultural and Creative Careers Festival blog
The Insights Programme - connecting students to alumni and their industries