Armani Syed: MESA Mag and the Future of Progressive Journalism

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 31st March 2021 07:56 EDT

Armani is a rising young journalist and the co-founder of MESA Magazine along with co-editor Kardelen Yuce. The impressive cosmopolitan platform is dedicated to Middle-Eastern and South Asian writers who want to fully express themselves while independently honing their craft. From international news and editorial opinion to the particulars of beauty, pop-culture and sex & relationships, the stylish publication welcomes underrepresented cultural insight to promote a powerful totality. Recent stories range from political coverage such as why The Military Coup in Myanmar is terrible for the Rohingya to lifestyle where The Middle Eastern influence behind hen nights is intriguingly explored. Other striking pieces include Are Current Conversations in Racism Achieving Anything to Am I Champagne Socialist? Armani highlighted the desire to dismantle the one-dimensional image of people of colour as MESA Magazine’s primary goal:   

“Our experience on a daily basis isn’t as depressing as the media would have us believe! When I was freelancing, I really noticed that many mainstream editors only commissioned pieces that focussed on religion, culture and race based very much in conflict. This is limiting and just entrenches a negative bias. It felt as if I was selling a pound of flesh just to have some recognition. Of course, it’s important to talk about difficult things, but not to the detriment of one’s mental well-being. Writing solely on trauma definitely took its toll.” Propagating a reductive philosophy then unsurprisingly undermines the spirit. In order to accurately reflect the dynamism of identity and reconstitute the social truth, Armani teamed up with friend in writerly revolution, Kardelen, creating the conceptual “space that would display a range of meditated emotion. There’s a scope of feeling from different people about the world, depending on the specifics e.g., my views as a South-Asian Muslim are going to be different to that of Kardelen’s whose background is Middle-Eastern. Usually, you won’t get the variety that we see within our own lives. We wanted our writers to be able to pen anything they felt deeply for: arts, current affairs, private stories and wider commentary. This would send a message to editors while giving proper chance to alternative talent to thrive.” Indeed, as well as introducing rounder positive representation, there is a responsibility for big papers to accommodate invested grass-roots perspectives to effectively evolve the industry alongside.   

Armani further commented on the dearth of diversity: “Yes, the media landscape should mirror the public’s reality”, e.g., a British-Bangladeshi’s, “investigation of the gentrification of Brick Lane is going to be more incisive than some white man sat behind a regular news desk. It would be great to have established platforms listen to specialist publications and collaborate on reporting, respecting the wisdom of those on the ground. We have a close relationship to our communities and so the information we are put out there is reliable. Influential media outlets should ask themselves: what subject am I covering? Whose voice is the most authentic to that piece?” Here, interestingly, one of the many topics Armani covers in her general journalism is the Royal Family: “Human-led stories are really my interest. I love to highlight the many different areas that one person,” or in this case entity, “can illuminate.” Indeed, there is an underlying commonality with every person in that each belongs to one anthropological race. Armani stated: “the best way to invite empathy is to create stories that are relatable e.g. The Royals may seem removed from us, but they are ordinary people at the end of day. Through them, you can explore fashion, history and heritage. Similarly, when I wrote a piece on Pakistani migrants, the account appeared niche. Some who came to Britain from South-Asia would use Tape Letters to communicate with those back home being unable to read or write.   

Although it seems as if only those in that same position can understand, negotiating loneliness and isolation is a state to which we can all relate – especially now. I love to unearth the intimacy in communities.” In this way, Armani also ultimately captures the warmth within personal ideas: good journalism being the ability to balance objectivity with sincere sympathy. “Aspiring journalists today need a combination of self-belief and love of good stories. If you find a story that you're super excited about, the chances are that someone else will be too and people will want to read it. That's where conviction comes in – you need to know that you're the right person to bring that story to life.” Indeed, emotional fire is what makes analytical pieces creative and even infuses them with a playfulness or humour as another inspiring counterbalance to the didactic norm. This is evident in articles by MESA such as The Language of Internal Monologues When You’re Bilingual and Are You Ready for the Awkwardwear trend? Finally, a passionate professional, Armani not only reveals the progressiveness inherent to her industry, but also a new generation who wish to broadly better tradition. “Every aspect of society develops as we receive new information. Scientific advances have changed the face of medicine and continue to do so, and as we get closer to a state of irreversible damage caused by climate change, we realise the action we need to take to protect our planet.   

Reassessing conventional outlooks is no different. We can evaluate them and decide what still serves us and what we can improve on. At the end of the day people will continue to hold the traditions that matter to them dearly and that’s never going to change no matter how much criticism an institution receives. We just need to reframe how we view these values. For example, being a patriot doesn’t have to mean securing your borders and worshipping the flag - it could mean that you want to see your country have a great legacy by leading on human rights, using funds to look after its vulnerable and hungry citizens rather than being shamed into doing the moral thing, and by being a place that people dream of coming to.” As corollary to this, ironically, rejecting contemporary context can sabotage the otherwise timeless value of tradition. In a climate of extreme divisiveness, a combination of standard smarts and modern open-mindedness is the organic social salve. Already in the process of a mass holistic restructuring, to enjoy the concrete benefit, we must simply let this be.   

Elaborate on what makes a talented contemporary journalist?  

An awareness of the digital world. A lot of media has moved away from print and television, and towards web-based platforms. Know how to find a story that people will click on using Google trends. Learn how to find experts and sources using twitter searches and relevant hashtags. The internet can connect us to really exciting voices and stories and make our life easier. Most importantly, however, I think strong young journalists need resilience. Learn to take a rejection or fifty because they will be forthcoming. You may want to give up at times or think you're not good but you need those rejections, be that for jobs or freelance stories you've pitched to an editor, to steer you away from mistakes and learn what works.  

What have been some highlight moments with MESA?  

The first time we did a shoot for our Modern Maharajah feature with DJ and curator, Ryan Lanji, of Netflix’ The Big Flower Fight and runner of popular queer Bollywood night in London. The spread and shots went live this year, giving us legitimacy: we are created by community for the community. We weren’t able to pay Ryan as we are volunteer-led, but he was happy to help us. We even got some great tips!   


T:  @armani_sy  

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