By Zaid Noorsumar
Fatima Al-Sayed and her three co-founders at The Blank Page are content with providing a space for young writers to flourish. The online publication, which currently has more than 700 likes on Facebook, publishes articles on numerous topics including global affairs, environmental issues and health. home.blnkpage.org
Al-Sayed and her cohorts, all of whom are UTSC students, spend a substantial amount of time writing, editing, promoting content, designing layouts and working with contributors without harboring any grand motivations to profit off their labour.
“For us, it’s more about having that platform available for people more than anything that has to do with money,” says Fatima, who is enrolled in the joint Centennial-UTSC journalism program, and edits the Arts and Life section aside from being the photo editor.
“We are happy funding this because we believe in it so much. And in the future, if we don’t make revenue off of it, that’s fine for us.”
Merging Passion & Responsibility
Alexa Battler, another UTSC-Centennial journalism student, is one of the members of The Blank Page’s executive committee and the opinions editor.
“It’s not so much about money for me. Writing is a passion, editing is a passion, working with people is a passion, hearing people’s voices and understanding them is a passion, and that at the end of the day will always outweigh any monetary gain,” says Alexa, who is also an editor for Minds Matter, a publication dedicated to raising awareness about mental illness affecting post-secondary students.
According to Fatima, the editors at The Blank Page are willing to help young writers out, even if the content is not produced for their publication.
“We really put an emphasis on giving feedback in a way that is helpful,” Fatima says.
“We will sit with writers and work on things with them, and go over their stories. And point to things that they could improve on. For us, if someone can’t write, we will help them.”
But where does this generosity come from?
“I wouldn’t call it generosity,” Fatima says. “It feels like something that I have to do because it’s a sense of responsibility. Like I have these skills so I’m going to help you.”
According to Fatima, the team finds the process of growing their venture engaging. She says that it’s rewarding to see them get another “like” on Facebook and to know that they are growing their audience and the people they help express themselves.
Debate Without Hatred
While The Blank Page encourages its contributors to write on a variety of topics, and provides a platform for opinions, contributors have to use well-researched arguments to back up their stances.
“I remember an article that Alexa was editing, it was so way out there in terms of not being based on any kind of source at all, so obviously we’re like, ‘how can we help you if it’s the views that are wrong, not the writing?’ Fatima says.
The restriction is in place to ensure quality journalism, as the editorial team maintains that it wants to foster a healthy dialogue by allowing multiple perspectives on a single issue.
Recently, in response to a critical comment on a Facebook post promoting an article, the official Blank Page response ended with: “If you disagree with any of the articles or perspectives, we welcome you to write a response!”
While the editorial team doesn’t have misgivings about content that contradicts their own views, they have a no-tolerance policy for hatred.
“I’m never going to say no to anything. I’m going to read everything that anybody sends me,” Alexa says.“Where I say ‘no’ – and this is for Minds Matter as well – is in the realm of limiting human rights, which I believe in more than anything else are our rights that are guaranteed to us as people.
“We do not give a platform to hate speech. We do not give a platform to anyone who is degrading. And that’s beyond the Canadian definition of sparking hate speech – I believe in Canada you can only be legally charged for hate speech if you’re trying to incite violence. We go past that too – if you’re expressing hate speech, that’s not what we are for.”