Q&A with Omkar Mahajan: Editor-in-Chief of The Prospect Journal of International Affairs

While most newspapers like the UCSD Guardian focus on campus issues, the Prospect Journal of International Affairs chooses to have a broader scope, informing students about events happening around the globe. The new editor-in-chief of Prospect, Eleanor Roosevelt College senior Omkar Mahajan, has great plans for his publication this coming year. The Guardian sat down with Mahajan to hear what direction Prospect is headed in, its recent partnership with the Guardian and what its readers can expect.

Q: First off, what is Prospect? What kind of content do you publish?

A: The Prospect Journal of International Affairs is essentially an online, student-run, web-based journal that’s entirely managed by UCSD students who write about international affairs. So we cover all the international issues that occur in the news: We’ve written about Syria, stuff going on in China, Israel, Palestine, Turkey, Brexit etc. And we’ve also written about obscure stuff such as punk rock movements in Indonesia to new religious movements in Iceland to even Native American culture in Germany. We’ve written about a lot of different things. Basically, the whole point of it is just to write about international issues because there isn’t anything else like this that exists on campus. And we feel that by providing a discourse where students can engage with these ideas, we’re educating readers about issues that should matter to them because we feel that especially in this age, considering this election with a certain candidate in particular, that it’s extremely important for people to at least have some sense of what’s going on around the world. We essentially publish stuff that our staff writers write, which include editorials, academic essays, travelogues — you name it. Some students have studied abroad or visited other countries; we’ve also published that as well and what it’s like living in a different country, what they’ve experienced, what they’ve learned about these other cultures, and they essentially elaborate on that. We even publish film reviews and other related material like that. In fact, we’ve even interviewed various people who speak at the global forum. We’re affiliated with I-House and we do a whole bunch of other things.

Q: What is the history of Prospect?

A: Prospect was started by two students in Muir [College], I believe, in 2009. They created it because there wasn’t anything else that existed on campus — there wasn’t an international affairs journal. You had the Guardian that covered student affairs, you had satirical newspapers, but you didn’t have one that wrote about international issues that weren’t related to UCSD but that were important and significant to talk about.

Q: How has Prospect grown as long as you’ve been with it?

A: When I first joined Prospect, it was pretty big, a lot of people knew about it. But as the years went on, four-fifths of our writers graduated, so when I took over as the editor-in-chief, what I saw was that not many were coming back to Prospect for the 201617 school year. I knew I had to increase recruitment and get more writers. Through spamming various Facebook groups, emailing different professors and reaching out through word-of-mouth, I was able to get more writers to apply to Prospect. And another thing that’s worked that’s never been done before is our recent partnership with the Guardian, which I feel is very important and is going to be beneficial to both of us since we’re providing the Guardian with an outlet in which they can write about opinionated pieces concerning international issues. We’ll also be able to gain more publicity as well as get quality articles and contributing pieces from them with regards to the opinion section.

Q: What changes would you like to see at Prospect as editor-in-chief?

A: Well, I hope to bring back the Connect events, which is where we have a panel of speakers, usually professors but not always, speaking on a given topic that we have pre-selected and where each gives a presentation of about ten minutes each. Then, after those presentations they would address each other’s viewpoints and then engage in a question and answer with the audience. That’s important; that’s something that we want to bring back. Past topics have included the war on terror, the politics of soccer, women in developing countries, women in STEM, climate change etc. For Winter Quarter, our upcoming Connect event is going to be “Politics of Outer Space.”

Q: Do you know who you will invite?

A: At the current moment, we are right now looking for experts, professors, grad students who are very knowledgeable about this topic and are qualified to speak on it. So at the current moment we don’t know who will be speaking, but we’re searching.

Q: Are there any other upcoming Connect events?

A: Yeah, right after that one we’re going to have a second Connect event Winter Quarter which is going to be “Technology and Economic Advancement in Southeast Asia.” Again, we’ll be hosting it at the Great Hall. We’re collaborating with the Global Forum, working with I-House. We haven’t planned that event yet, but we are right now processing the logistics of it, figuring out what day we should set it on, who will be speaking etc.

Q: What made you want to be editor-in-chief?

A: When I first joined sophomore year, I was a staff writer, essentially just contributing articles to whatever I was interested in. That’s the great thing about Prospect: Writers choose what they want to write about for us, and because we allow writers this freedom, I feel that writers are truly able to express their true strengths and ideas about topics that they’re really passionate about. To answer your question, I started out as a staff writer, then at the end of that year I was later promoted to senior editor where I managed a group of writers, published their articles, helped them in the peer review process, checked for AP Style, checked for factual accuracy etc. Then, the next year, when I found out that there wasn’t anyone else to take over, that’s when I became editor-in-chief.

Q: As you mentioned before, you have a worldwide focus in terms of topics.

A: That’s correct; in fact, we have a readership in 174 countries.

Q: How much do you communicate with your readership in other countries?

A: It depends. Some readers just read the articles that we publish, and only read certain articles that we publish when it interests them. Then we have other readers who are voracious and dedicated readers who actively read every single post that we publish. Some of our readers are professors and academics from universities in Europe who actively read our site.

Q: As a writer for Prospect, have there been any particular articles that were your favorites?

A: Yeah. In fact, there was one article I recently wrote about the Buddhists of Mes Aynak. I was extremely passionate about this topic because I am very passionate about Buddhism in particular, and what I was writing about was Buddhism in Afghanistan, because when we usually think of Buddhism, we normally associate it with East Asia or South Asia. We don’t necessarily associate it with the Middle East. But what most people don’t realize is that, for several centuries, Buddhism was prevalent and a dominant religion in the Middle East. And in this article, I talked about how there was once a place in Afghanistan that had a Buddhist influence, that practiced Buddhism. Then you also had Greek descendents of Alexander the Great living there. And in this article, I essentially explained how this was a mixture of Buddhism and Greek philosophy, and that this archaeological site, which is unique, was recently excavated but now faces possible demolition from a Chinese mining company. So I essentially wrote an article about this archaeological site that was facing demolition. The interesting thing is that when I published this article, the same professor from Northwestern University that I cited, as well as his film and the large organization dedicated to saving this Buddhist heritage site, found my article. They retweeted it, it got shared much more, many more times afterwards and they even commented on the Facebook post.

Q: So the reach of Prospect is really incredible. Right now, your writing staff comes exclusively from UCSD. Can you see in the future possibly expanding beyond UCSD?

A: We’ve thought about that, but I think it’s best if we just stick with UCSD for the time being, because if we were to expand to other campuses, we may lose control over the Prospect name; Prospect may no longer be associated with UCSD and essentially it may be a little bit more difficult to get speakers to come here and speak when they may have realized “Oh, I already spoke at another Prospect function at a different university.” Additionally, how would this even work? Would other writers have other Prospect websites? Would they be contributing to our site? Who would even be in charge of all this? There’s so many logistical questions that would need to be asked if we were to even think about expanding to other universities.