What Should Student Journalism Be?
From Sussex to Strathclyde, most if not all UK universities have a student newspaper. This is evidence of two things: firstly, a desire among students to write, and be published, on subjects outside of their field of study, and secondly, in the upper echelons of such papers, the continued existence of an ambition among those of us chasing neither fame nor fortune to progress into the field of “journalism”.
Out of the smorgasbord of student rags, this newspaper stands out as being particularly remarkable. The Saint, as our advertising proudly proclaims, is independent, meaning that we are unaffiliated with the Students’ Association. We are one of only three, in this regard.
This pertinent fact goes unappreciated not only by our readers but by much of our committee too. Being unaffiliated means that we are (within reason, because we rent office space from the Union) able to publish stories on both the University and the Students’ Association freely.
It also means that we must raise funds ourselves. Unfortunately the money we receive from the advertisements we feature is dwarfed by the funding we could receive from the Union. But we continue to be unaffiliated because it is important both practically and ideologically to every Executive Team that has taken stewardship over this newspaper.
The Saint is also special because it gets printed. Obviously this has its drawbacks.
The two-day delay in submission and delivery means that writing news stories that are interesting and topical is difficult. More recently, we have discussed the environmental impact of printing so many papers too. Like our independence decision, however, printing is important to us ideologically ‒ we whole-heartedly and fundamentally believe that words read physically are more likely to be taken on board and thought about. We will continue to print.
With printing a paper comes great responsibility. Words online can be edited and changed. Mistakes in ink are more difficult to alter, especially on a physical newspaper that will end up in the four corners of St Andrews (and often further afield) every two weeks.
We do not, therefore, want to publish stories that make us liable to prosecution, for one thing because we could not afford any kind of legal case, but mainly because such an event harms the reputation of the writer, the paper, the University, and, most importantly, the standing of student journalists more broadly.
At the same time, we want to take risks. Nobody would pick up the newspaper on a Thursday if the news was boring and unrelatable, or the Viewpoint section said nothing interesting or amusing.
There is also the added pressure to distinguish ourselves in some way: we are all trying to get jobs. Some of us are competing with hundreds of students nationally for very few places on journalism graduate schemes and the like. To not write, or to publish stories that receive only a paltry number of views, is just not an option.
All student journalists face this problem. We find ourselves caught in the middle of a tug-of-war with our many conflicting desires. We want to be a pillar of our community. We want to be the forum through which students foster a culture of healthy, reasoned, and interesting debate. We want to promote ourselves and our own writing. We want to see our writers write stories that gain traction in St Andrews and the wider student community. We do not want to be seen as merely playing at journalism, and so hope to find ourselves treated in the same manner as any newspaper would be.
Some may accuse us of demanding too much here. St Andrews offers no NCTJ qualification and so it’s fair to say The Saint’s writers do not have an acute understanding of journalism ethics. Our training comes from wisdom passed down from Editorial Team to Editorial Team, and even then this amounts to little more than protocol guidance. Our own experience, often less than a year or so, does the rest.
When it comes to balancing our aspirations and realities, all we can promise is that we will proceed in a way that we deem sensible and fair. We will not always get things right, and this is what, within reason, should be expected of student journalists such as ourselves. After all, university is a place of learning and development, not just in the academic sense, but in the professional sense too. Ultimately we will accept responsibility for everything that we publish, but ask that readers treat us with understanding.
Undoubtedly the best way to do this is by engaging on a productive level with what we publish. Should we publish an article that you believe to miss the mark, as we may, strive to provide the redirection. We recommend writing to us, and for us, whether in agreement or dispute. We were justifiably enthused and delighted when we received a letter (e-mail) last semester commenting on an opinion piece we published. We published this response too (it has since been viewed close to 500 times), and a few days later said letter was posted on St Fessdrews, racking up both likes and comments. Such interactivity is a joy to promote.
The Editors of this newspaper would like this to happen more often, whether through the medium of the traditional letter (the address can be found on our website) or the humble email. On such occasions we encourage entertaining, but not offensive, language, as above all it represents enthusiasm ‒ though we maintain the right to refuse, or edit.
Olivia and I are hoping to build off a first semester return to print by cementing The Saint as St Andrews’ premier paper of interest. Our vision is one in which the noble tradition of student journalism is engaged with town-wide, with the added understanding over what our own jobs actually entail. We approach our second, and last, semester as Editors-in-Chief of The Saint, then, hoping to see our vision of what student journalism should be, realised.