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Why student journalism is important

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a young child; the desire to be a journalist came later, when I began to see injustice and privilege around me and started looking for the best way to challenge it.

Journalism truly does strike me as a way to change the world – not just because of the act of informing, but because of the dialogue which the journalist can set up.

Good reporting enriches readers, makes them curious, and drives them on to find out more… It also offers answers, even if that’s hard and isn’t always in the interest of the powerful.

Since the 1970s, journalists who challenge authority have begun to permeate our popular culture as a particular type of hero.

We all know about Watergate, and the more recent WikiLeaks and FIFA scandals. Films like All the President’s Men, The Insider and Goodnight and Good Luck have shown us brave reporters to be admired.

But what about student journalism? If we can’t break such huge stories, why do we bother, and what makes it important enough for us to carry on going?

Student journalism is different to other journalism because it’s a peer-to-peer discussion. It’s us telling our friends and classmates the news which affects them.

It’s important because we’re forming the next generation not only of journalists but also of readers. And we, too, come up against barriers.

Not the sort of powerful politicians the famous journalists challenge, but more mundane ones. To do meaningful work, just like any other journalist, we need to be allowed our own independent voices – and our readers, too, need to be able to approach each story independently and critically.

We student journalists, too, need not to be led by fear of control and censorship. This may be harder in the current educational climate than ever before.

Those of us here today have come up to university at a time when it’s being run like a business for profit: this, of course, affects the way we develop as journalists.

Bad press for any educational institution is now even less welcome than before the introduction of £9,000 fees.

The fear of losing prospective students over a scandal may mean universities and students unions are more cautious of what they allow to be published, and student newspapers are to a certain extent used as part of marketing. This was certainly the case at the last newspaper I wrote for.

Last year I set up a newspaper at my York Sixth Form College because I didn’t think students there were connected to each other and that too many of them were drifting about looking for a way to express themselves.

Although it was one of those huge FE colleges where they offer societies, pride themselves on excellence and model themselves on a university, the idea of a “student voice” didn’t seem to appeal to management.

Over the year, I fought to be allowed to publish the work students thought was important, including addressing concerns over catering and misogyny on campus.

I was repeatedly offered help from marketing, of all departments, and several attempts were made to forbid my paper from printing “anything which might project the wrong image of College” to the extent that funding was cut, there was an attemt to appoint a teacher editor and a member of junior management tried to stop distribution.

When students aren’t allowed authority over our own stories, when an editor isn’t allowed editorial discretion – we need to ask, in whose interest are student newspapers?

This fixation with “image” and publicity undermines the true value of journalism on campus. As journalists, we need to be brave enough to challenge the powerful on campus, get information out to our fellow students and involve them in what is happening. Although as student journalists we are learning, we aren’t writing unconsciously without awareness of journalistic standards.

A controversial story – even one like the first article I worked on for The Badger – isn’t student recklessness or desire for polemic; our intention is simply to report and inform.

My experience last year, and over the last few weeks at The Badger, has convinced me that student journalism has an important role to play in university life – and even beyond – because of its unique perspective, which can bring issues to light, involve people and achieve change.

This, however, can only be upheld when free of institutional interests and an education system run like a business – for how can we make the world a better, more transparent place if we’re asked to be uncontroversial and positive?

 

Freya Marshall Payne

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