by Chua Jun Yan
Over 200 articles and 300,000 hits later, I think it’s important to take a stand back and ask the big question – why does the Rafflesian journalist matter? In a turf where there are no medals to be won, only stories to be told, what is the existential justification for Raffles Press?
At least for me, the Raffles Press project was never about the CCA. It’s inextricably linked to the type of school and community we are. Perhaps more acutely than others, my contemporaries and I felt that RI had become increasingly transitional and transactional over the past five years. I say this not as a criticism, but as an observation. It’s an inevitable reality of living in an epoch of fundamental structural changes, most notably the reintegration of RI and RJC. And we were tired – not of the changes, but of the learned passivity and helplessness which we had come to exhibit in one form or another. Unhappy about a new policy? Blame it on Corporate Communications (even if they didn’t do it!). We realized that unless we became culture-builders, and not just culture-questioners, we would become nothing more than dissidents of history.
In this, we saw an opportunity for Raffles Press. RI has always had a strong publication heritage – The Rafflesian, the Rafflesian Times, Outlook, News from RI, RInspire. Alas, a cocktail of factors meant that the incisive voices of the 1960s and 1990s had given way to the placid parroting of the 2000s. Contrary to what many think, the reincarnation of Raffles Press was not about doing something new. Above all, it was a revival and a reversion to the past.
Perhaps naively, we felt that Raffles Press could rekindle the civic life of the school. We believed – and still believe – that it could be every Rafflesian’s mental map of campus, allowing individuals to step outside their parochial concerns and navigate the marsh-swamp of experiences, issues, and sentiments that take root on these 54 hectares of land. Not just in the banner-waving, cheer-inducing way, but in the sense that we wanted to propagate deep thinking and intellectual engagement about issues facing our community. As much as we knew certain articles could be divisive, we wanted Raffles Press to unify, by bringing Rafflesians around a common forum to debate matters we all had a stake in.
It wasn’t easy. We had no frame of reference, no checklist to get through. In the early days, we were constantly pushing the boundaries, trying to find out where the OB markers were. We did lots of sports and arts reporting because we knew it meant a lot for CCAs, especially the less prominent ones. We also forayed into practical columns like Platform Gap because that was a real way for us to give back to readers.
We learnt a lot, but I think the overarching lesson is that there is no grand narrative of a quixotic struggle against an evil, monolithic school management. You need to start with small battles, little victories. You need to be consistent, and make your case – enthusiastically – time and time again. You need to find friends and patrons for your cause. Most importantly, you need to show that you are moderate, reasonable, and mainstream – you cannot allow yourself to be hijacked by the most radical and extreme elements within your group. As much as it’s about passion, it’s about directed passion, guided by a gradualist roadmap, and lubricated by a set of intermediate values which fill the void between where you are and where you want to be. And in all fairness, the dreaded call from the Administrative Centre has never come. Romantic as it may be to be a “persecuted” student editor in an illiberal democracy, no one has told us that we cannot run an article.
Indeed, many have come forward to say that what Raffles Press has done has been amazing over the past year. While I am appreciative for their compliments, I cannot help but wonder why it should be amazing. Because it’s actually a very down-to-earth process. A great team which works hard and thinks strategically every day of the week, 52 weeks a year would not have managed less. For this I am incredibly grateful to my batchmates, as well as to the EXCO which I have had the privilege to work with. We have also been incredibly lucky to have Mr Caleb Liu as our teacher-in-charge, who has been supportive and personally invested in this project. Unpopular as it may be, I must put on record my thanks to the RI Communications Department, and in particular to Mr Dominic Chua, Ms Chelsia Ho and Ms Adeline Wong. They were accommodating and helpful every step of the journey. And of course, without you, my dear reader, this whole project would have been futile. We cannot underestimate the importance of being in the right place in the right time.
Will Raffles Press survive a year from now? I believe we have a strong team which will take us there. But five years? I’m not so sure. I’m not one to believe in the power of legacy. Everything is transient, impermanent. But if the story of Raffles Press inspires just one more RI kid to step forward, build something and effect some form of change, I think the past year would not have been wasted.
The writer is the outgoing President of Raffles Press. The views expressed are his own.