THE DECLINE OF STUDENT MEDIA – AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT

By Lewis Martin

Over the last couple of years, student media outlets on our campuses have lost much of their political clout. Often, their focus is on delivering a hot take with a snappy headline, not on the integrity of their journalism or on exercising their power to make change on students’ behalf. This is particularly true of the two main student media outlets at UEA, and can be seen in how they handled the UEA management expenses scandal last month.

Concrete broke the story which, to their credit, was a good piece of investigative journalism. Unfortunately however, the story was undermined by the revelation that there were some major inaccuracies in the facts reported, leading to a climb down on two of the biggest parts of the story. The report lacked any substantive analysis of the central issue: why did university management feel that claiming for such lavish and ridiculous items was at all acceptable? The story also failed to express an interest in its own future. What could the university do to address the damaging attitude of its management staff? What action could students take to hold management to account for their gross misuse of power? Answering these questions is vital if the value of the initial investigation is to be carried forward into real change. The choice to report only the basic facts of the matter, even aside from those facts being inaccurate, made the impact of breaking this story rather lacklustre compared to what it could have achieved.

independent student-run media outlets […] have become the plaything of careerists

Not long afterwards, The Tab followed up with their take on the story, which almost went so far as to argue that the expenses were justifiable in context, suggesting that the claimants were merely ‘pushing it’. They did give some indication of the dissatisfaction felt by students in response to the news, but like Concrete they didn’t offer any alternative vision of what could be done, or any challenge to the university’s denial of attempts to wave away the issue.

I don’t ever expect anything outstanding from the Tab – they are part of Rupert Murdoch’s deplorable media empire after all. However, the independent student-run media outlets we have on our campuses, such as Concrete, should provide a platform for student-led change . Instead, for the most part they have become the plaything of careerists who want a few more lines for their to their CVs. This manifests itself in populist contradictions – stories about the need to tackle rising costs on campuses are too often followed by stories undermining the efforts of students or student unions who are fighting for change on their campuses, such as Concrete’s coverage of a possible rent strike at UEA.

Amongst all this malpractice lies a morsel of hope. Whilst, for the most part, the careerists have taken over mainstream student media (and other aspects of our student movement), they are not there alone. There are individuals within publications like Concrete who will push for their articles to be something more than mere reporting of facts. They are the ones who put in the Freedom of Information requests, who risk being getting on the wrong side of both their student unions and their universities.

our student led media outlets can play a key role in the new student movement

Reporting a story is only half the job. When you publish or break a story, don’t merely write down the basics and send it out into the world. Look to push the envelope and inspire people to do something about the issue. In an age when media outlets are obsessed with the unattainable goal of being objective, say what you really think and encourage people to do what needs to be done.

Some of the largest institutions that have previously inspired change are literally dying before our eyes (looking at you, NUS). Now more than ever we need to be looking for ways to encourage people on our campuses to fight for the real change that is needed, and our student led media outlets can play a key role in the new student movement – if they take their responsibilities as a platform for students seriously.

If you are interested in learning more about effective, radical journalism, the fourth annual War of Words progressive media conference offers a chance to learn from some of the best and brightest in the alternative media world. It takes place at UEA SU on Saturday March 30th, 2019. You can help fund War of Words here.

Featured image credit: Jon S


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