Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
A year ago, I wrote in The Telegraph revealing my struggles with Asperger’s. In the article, I mentioned my lifelong love for writing and how it “enabled me to communicate…in a way I couldn’t always through spoken word”. Following this newfound passion, I was picked up, aged 12, by my English teacher to join the revived school magazine as a junior reporter where I was able to learn the practices of journalism.
Today, my zealousness for media has not faded into anonymity. I ended my time at my school’s publication as editor-in-chief; moving to Kent, I became executive editor for InQuire newspaper, as well as a presenter for the broadcaster KTV. This summer, I had the honour of becoming a weekly columnist for The Broad, a website inundated with beautifully written opinion. Needless to say, I have been at exposing youth wrongdoings and sports days for far too long.
After nearly a decade of volunteering, my time doing student media has come to an end. This is my departing sign off before making my step on to Fleet Street. In reality, that line reads more dramatically than it should. Looking at the current makeup of correspondents at nationals in this country, nearly all of them had tapped into the avenues of college radio, television, or print – from Jeremy Vine to Paul Dacre – on their ‘traditional’ career path.
It makes sense for any budding hack. Everyone has to start somewhere. Building a portfolio of published work – be that reviews or investigations – and having a better understanding of the environment and software these organisations use bodes well for future employment (not least because they cannot see the errors you invariably make though ultimately thrive from). Aside from these, there are two other virtues of student media that cannot be unnoticed.
The first go rather unappreciated by the student body. Between coursework and socialising, most candidates find themselves busy (even with the limited contact hours they had). As a result, most do not notice, and frankly do not care about, the internal workings of their university. That is until something directly affects them and their programme.
Then they start caring, vouching for a forum to voice their concerns, and – akin to the notion of education – exchange ideas. Student media – like a watchdog – does factual accountability (rather than ill-informed rumour milling) brilliantly; whether that be looking into the gross misspending of tuition fees, bring justice to victims of gross misconduct by society heads, or simply giving a voice to the voiceless.
The second function was the biggest pro that came during my outings: meeting people. Senior staff in Canterbury became my best friends because of shared likes and interests (and competitiveness to better each other). With that, my knowledge base grew simply from daily encounters I made – from union officials and academics to residents and local politicians.
Amidst the gradual decline of local agencies, student media always has an edge. For one, most are not businesses with shareholders in mind. Undergraduates and postgraduates are wilfully happy to contribute for free, if not a small membership fee, to keep the ball going year on in. Even ones with small budgets thrive because of their hegemony on hyperlocal news – who else is going to cover the visits of prominent outside speakers that is most of the time exclusive to registered students? – especially when competitors with larger budgets cannot fill gaps.
However, as someone consistently dedicated to the cause, I do worry about the state of student media. Unfortunately, the majority of newspapers have not been able to work out a package that would grant them the ability to run independently. Varsity in Cambridge had managed for several decades but inevitably fell, switching its subscription service for an infrequent free sheet. But you may be wondering, ‘that is the nature of news nowadays’. Websites do not have the resources to be a truly vocal voice.
And even for those producing purely digital content, another obstacle continues to hinder their way. Student unions are most entities answer when paying for maintenance, but this places unpredictable measures regarding the inhibition of freedom, and distribution scheduling. Just this week, Durham’s Palatinate – one of the oldest and respected university prints – has been told by their union that they will not have any money for printing this autumn. Unions are struggling financially, along with the entire Higher Education sector, so when they fall, so too does the groups that they carry.
The solution? There is not a clear-cut answer, really; it depends on a myriad of factors. A select few have been able to succeed, not least The Broad who has garnered an international reputation in the short space of time it has existed. Whether it be strictly on the internet or on a termly print rotation, student media is not worth any less because of shortcomings, and if one outlet sadly dies, another will rise in its place. They are designed to inform and entertain young people, and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had and the people I have met along the way.
I will miss the world of student journalism dearly.