Josh Kalenga: ‘Innovating to stay relevant’

December 17, 2021 | NEWS | By Izzie Hicks | Photo by Audrey Colgin

Josh Kalenga, one of The Catalyst’s outgoing editors-in-chief, talks about his boarding school experience in Zambia and Hong Kong, his love for the printed paper, and how starting the role while publishing online-only wasn’t the worst thing after all.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

“When I was applying to colleges in the U.S. the only thing I looked at for every school I applied to was their newspaper. I knew that wherever I was going to go it for sure was the activity that I wanted to do. So when I just came to CC I searched up The Catalyst again and emailed the Editors-in-Chief that I wanted to be a writer. I looked at the Life section and it seemed like a good fit for me, because I like philosophy and culture and all those things.

I still remember being really excited seeing the first article I wrote for the paper. It was about international students at CC, probably because that’s the only thing I felt qualified to write about at the time. I just remember feeling really excited seeing it in print.

It was a weird feeling just because I did journalism at my high school in Zambia as well.

I actually was part of a group of a couple of friends that started the first newspaper at my school. The newspaper was basically A4 paper that we stapled together, which was fun. You know, it was cool, but when I saw my first article on not A4 paper, but real newsprint, it was definitely one of the times that I’ve been most excited at CC.

I’m from Lusaka, Zambia, and before CC I went to a boarding school in Zambia. That was a weird place. It was in this mining city that was like six hours away from home. I was only 12 when I went to this school. It was definitely an environment that forces you to grow up quickly. We weren’t allowed any technology or anything.

The way that school terms work in Zambia is different. We have three three-month-long terms with a one-month break in between each term, so we don’t have a long summer. And for the whole three months you couldn’t have any technology. We would have one visiting weekend, but otherwise for a few months you didn’t see your family.

Photo courtesy of Josh Kalenga

I definitely feel like I had to grow up fast just because I was away from home. I also felt like it made me more independent. It taught me how to relate to people. Later, I went to a school called United World College that gives scholarships to students from around the world to attend. My United World College was in Hong Kong where I lived for two years doing a high school program called the IB. I feel that my experience in boarding school gave me the confidence to go abroad to a new country for college even though it was very scary.

I had been the Life editor for about a year when the EIC position opened up. I think a big thing that appealed to me about the job was that I would get to read most of the articles in the paper. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how fun I found that. I just really enjoy reading people’s writing and feeling like I know what’s going on in school.

Starting EIC while the Catalyst was online-only allowed for me and my Co-EIC Izzie to think more about what we wanted the newspaper to become. It gave us more flexibility because with COVID we kind of had to keep innovating to stay relevant. When we came back into print, we had never done a printed paper before. And so it really was up to us to decide what we wanted that process to look like.

At first I just felt like I wouldn’t be good enough in the position. I felt like because I hadn’t worked at a proper newspaper in high school or anything like that, it just wouldn’t be something that I would excel at.

But I guess I had it in me and that’s a feeling that I want for everybody at CC to have. Something that was really important to me as EIC was believing that everybody could be a good writer, everybody could improve.

And it’s been great seeing first-years or whoever just reaching out and wanting to be involved with the paper. I see myself in that excitement and it’s cool to see writers grow the same way I did.

In my childhood I remember being obsessed with newspapers just on the way to school and when my parents got the newspaper in the morning. My mom was also a journalist. Even though she didn’t do it any more throughout my childhood, it’s clearly something that she was passionate about. She loved to read and that definitely rubbed off on me a little bit.

She wrote for a paper called The Zambia Daily Mail, which is basically the government-owned newspaper in Zambia. At the time she worked for them Zambia was basically a dictatorship; there was only one party in power. And she’s told me she had to write things a certain way. That I find pretty interesting. Just weird. It’s weird to think about what it means to be a journalist in a place where you can’t speak freely about everything.

Outside of The Catalyst, I’m a computer science major and I would say that takes up most of my time. That’s because the Block Plan is pretty intense, and one reason I love The Catalyst so much is because it just helps me just separate my school stress and feel like I’m doing something fun. Not that school isn’t fun, but it’s nice to do something different.

I also play a lot of soccer and watch a lot of soccer. I would say that’s probably 90% of what I do in my free time. I also have been learning to play the ukulele for the past year now, which has been fun. I’m looking forward to having more time to explore my other interests. I’ll always love journalism and always be interested in the paper. I’m pretty sure that I’ll keep writing for the paper. But I think having more free time will allow me to try new things. I’m excited for that.”

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