Article and Photos by Faras Aamir | Owl Staff
You never really know what it’s like to find your calling until you do. That’s exactly what I experienced when I discovered the world of possibilities in a little publication called Owl Magazine.
I got my start by taking an Introduction to Journalism class with Professor Claudia Brown in 2014. To my surprise, she informed me that Owl Magazine wanted to use my final project as the feature article for their next issue. The piece I had written was very personal. so I was interested in learning what they were going to do with my work.
As I got to know later on, this magazine actually started out as a newspaper. In fact, it was initially just a class project, with employee contributions comprising about half of the content. Claudia came on as the new advisor in 2010 and quickly converted it from what some referred to as a college press release to a totally student-run publication.
Claudia and the new staff wanted everything-writing, editing, design, and photography-to be created by the student talent at HCC.
In 2011, History major Philip Roszak was inspired by the National College Media Convention to take on the challenge of turning the newspaper into a glossy magazine. It wasn’t long before the new format was intriguing readers all across Harford County and winning national awards. Three years later, I started to get involved.
My featured article was “The YouTube Revolution: Using Social Media for Social Change.” In it, I spoke about taking the matter of misrepresentation of Muslims in media into my own hands and changing the perspective by sharing my art.
I got the chance to work with John Morin, a clutch photographer, to come up with a unique photo concept involving a microphone, face paint, and handstands. I was even asked to model for the front cover of the magazine. It was something completely new for me but I was happy to step out of my comfort zone.
I visited Owl Magazine’s workspace, which felt closet-sized, to see one of the editors put the feature together. Having a background in creative and visual arts, the piece was not looking as artistic as I would have envisioned it. I stepped in.
Using the bit of self-taught graphic design knowledge I had acquired over the years, I started to piece together a whole new concept. Claudia explained to me that I – a new writer – was taking on an art director’s role for a feature article, which had not been done before, but she trusted in my confidence and let me carry on. This was the first of many firsts during my time at Owl Magazine.
The truth is, I was not as confident in myself as Claudia was in me. The work I’d done prior to the magazine had gotten me used to having a ceiling for growth and experimentation.
When I was given the freedom to explore my creativity, I took full charge and got hungry for more. Claudia’s trust in me became an overall theme in what led to some of our most successful moments as a staff while I was there.
Designing one spread led to designing another and eventually, I was asked to take the role of Art Director. I took the position very literally and started changing formats, layouts, and even the logo.
That’s when I realized I could try nearly anything mediarelated with this type of platform. So, after little convincing, we took this publication from bound pages on magazine racks around Harford County to video-sharing social networks, to potentially engage with millions of people online.
We researched and bought professional video equipment to create our own little news network. We’d take the articles from our magazine and dive in deeper with video – visualizing each of the topics, recording interviews and reactions, and getting hands-on.
I felt like a real journalist for the first time. We were covering stories that meant something to us and followingthem up in real time to keep our audience updated. Even during internships, I’d never gotten this kind of experience.
The first magazine I designed head-to-toe was our “Back to Nature” issue in 2015. It was artistically empowering to be able to set a consistent nature-inspired theme and build concepts, textures, and photo-illustrations from scratch.
When I showed people the issue, they could not tell the difference between what was real and what I’d created digitally. My designs included ideas like making a plant appear to grow out of a prescription bottle and using the fabrics from a model’s clothing to create an entire sidebar.
I did it all over again in our “Challenge the Status Quo” issue later that year, this time with trippy colorful themes. I never worried about getting the “perfect picture” for an article if we didn’t have the resources. Our best resources were a team of extraordinary thinkers and powerful software that would allow me to do the articles justice with stunning visuals.
The articles were thoughtfully written, researched, and critiqued before ever landing on the glossy paper. I worked on articles like “Food to Boost Your Mood,” a piece from 2016 about the psychological effects of the things we consume.
My favorite article I did was “Traveling Through An Artist’s Perspective,” for which I did all the writing, design, and photography. This piece is special to me because it displays, through my eyes, some of the beautiful places around the world I have had the privilege of visiting.
Under each photo, I wrote a bit of poetry to capture what I was feeling during the moments the picture was captured. To tell somebody how a place made you feel is one thing; to make them feel it is another.
As an alum, I went on to become the subject of the 2019 issue’s “Advocate for Peace,” which highlights my time with a refugee family of eight from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, with whom I volunteered to work for three years. To my surprise, doing that work got me recognized as an Ambassador for Peace by the United Peace Federation.
Some of my favorite moments during my time at the magazine involved learning about other interesting topics we were covering and coming up with original and relevant video ideas to go shoot. I got to explore different cities, work with kids, and even suit up as a bee farmer to inspect an apiary. I felt like one of those guys on National Geographic.
I wanted people to see what we were creating, so I started designing individual posters for our articles for distribution around the college. I made recruitment ads in print and video form to increase our manpower. These efforts would bring some of the most unique individuals through the door-individuals with whom I keep dear friendships to this day.
Creating content we cared about came with recognition. Shelves were emptying out. videos were gaining thousands of views, and the publication was being compared to those made at four-year colleges.
Over the years, we’ve celebrated Apple Awards and Pinnacle Awards from the College Media Association (CMA) for our spread designs and our videos. We even won a 1stplace award for Best Viral Video in a category against fouryear colleges for our video “D.C. on a Budget.”
We were especially proud of being recognized in the CMA’s Film Festival Awards and Apple Awards for our coverage of the Baltimore Uprising and the Presidential Inauguration. Events like these can be controversial. but students like Matt Tennyson were never intimidated standing next to CNN or FOX News to deliver fair, quality coverage to the community.
These accomplishments didn’t just occur overnight. They are the result of an advisor who invests her time and energy into quality journalism while being a mom, professor, and student. With that leadership comes a staff who takes every opportunity to grow their skills and create meaningful work.
Owl Magazine may have started out as just a local paper in some small Maryland town, but there’s no doubt it’s reached tons of people around the world and made ripples beyond the community. It certainly has made a leader out of me and allowed me to grow my skills as a creative.
A calling doesn’t have to be some Hollywood movie scene with a cliche script, sometimes it can happen where you least expect it and be the gateway to the biggest impact. Owl Magazine has left me with this: It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s what you do while you’re there.
Faras Aamir wrote and designed this spread in honor of Owl Magazines 10th anniversary. Faras now runs his own media, art, and entertainment brand called Alif Theory.