I’ve not really been involved in student journalism for that long. I’ve been writing for four years, sure, but that’s not in itself involvement – I used to be more like a passer-by, happily screaming at random subjects and then walking away.
In some ways, this left me completely unprepared for the real world of student journos when I became an editor this year. I was no longer the screamer, but the screamee, reading other people’s rants – and crying myself to sleep over the idiocies some people wanted published.
I rarely received bad writers, which is good. I sometimes got writers who appeared to submit essays rather than articles, but for the most part they seemed content to accept that a 2500 word in-depth criticism of whatever probably shouldn’t be read by other people. But the past is the past – what about the future?
My little retrospective isn’t, in actual fact pointless – I’m a historian, really, so I always believe that when you consider the future you should take the past into account. After having attended the Student Publication Association National Conference (and having a SPANCing good time), I have to wonder – what is the future of student journalism?
With the future of adult, ‘real’ journalism is in doubt, there has never been a better time than now to ask this question. Recently, a student at Warwick described Warwick’s premier (maybe) student newspaper a ‘training ground for the future British journalistic class’.
As student journalists, we are, possibly, the future of journalism. Everything we face and decide will ultimately affect that which we face in the future. Basically, students now may affect our decisions later.
I, personally, have very rarely refused to publish anything based upon its viewpoint – perhaps one piece. Journalism for me and the paper I was involved with was entirely based around the idea of free speech. We were, are, a student newspaper after all – publishing student views is our job.
But because we’re editorially independent we have a sort of grace that a lot of other student newspapers don’t have. We don’t have an SU peering over our shoulder at every moment, or even checking the paper before it’s printed.
That’s not to say we didn’t face pressure – we faced pressure from the SU on every medium possible, from personal meetings to Twitter. But again, the beauty of ‘pressure’, is that we could still publish what we wanted, within certain (reasonable) parameters. Similarly, the University, whilst still maintaining some sort of ‘pressure’, has never actually threatened anyone to keep a story under wraps. (If they have, though, please do get in contact with me. That exposé would launch both our future careers.)
Wherever you are, across the country, I think the main problem we face as journos is that pressure. But I think the future of student journalism won’t be dictated by the industry or SUs, or even universities. Increasingly, policy and thought are being dictated by student pressure, or ‘grassroots’ movements.
I have no problem with student collectives, or even collectives as a general – they’re essential. Many wrongly try to dictate general thought, but as I’m writing a comment piece I feel like my opinion on that is irrelevant. I do, however, draw the line at prescribing what people should read and think.
Increasingly, censorship is becoming THE option. Dissenting views must be silenced because they must be wrong, logically and morally. I’m, ah, tenacious myself – I tend to cling to views, usually because I’ve justified them to myself so much that they can’t be wrong in my head. But I don’t hold that those views are morally superior to anybody else’s, mostly because morality is clearly a grey scale. Fifty shades of grey, if you will.
Student journalism and student writing will, I suspect, be increasingly defined by people telling student writers not to have certain views. The reality is, whilst they may have those certain views, they won’t voice them. They’ll be afraid. This has happened to my writers in the past, and it will happen in the future. In the past year, I’ve often had to warn people that they ‘may take some flack’ for certain articles. Why should I have to?
The future for student journalism then, I think, lies not in what is written, nor even the quality of the words, but in the bravery of writers and editors. Many people will always disagree with what you’ve said and what’s been written. And often you’ll feel awful about that, whether through guilt or fear. But if student journalism is to remain the training ground for the elite, then we must hold our heads high and keep writing.
Mike Wrench is an (apparently) award winning Comment writer, primarily for Warwick’s The Boar. He writes on whatever tends to make him angry, which is basically everything and anything. You can find him at http://mikewrench.wordpress.com or in a whiskey shop.