Ones to Watch’s resident blogger Caroline Mortimer argues that, while student media has to keep up with the changing landscape, its non-profit student-orientated service means that print editions of student newspapers will survive:
While the world’s media solemnly awaits the death of the print sector as it is slowly driven along in its digital hearse, student media’s own print machine still lumbers on somewhat haphazardly.
It is true that student media’s online presence has exploded in the past five years, and more and more university papers are seeing the merits of going ‘digital first’. As Lizzie Edmonds, editor of Leeds Student, argued earlier this week; student media has more room and the talent to experiment with innovative new forms that the professional media doesn’t have the leg room for. However, outside the cloistered world of the newsroom it’s only a small band of editors and writers who dedicate more hours to student journalism than is probably healthy; there are often hundreds of casual writers who are just contributing to the newspaper in order to see their names in print, rather than to advance their careers.
The lure of having something to show mum and dad when they come to visit after your first term away from home is one of the biggest draws for getting the casual student interested in student media. Therefore print has to survive because of the kudos attached to seeing your name appearing in a publication with limited space, as opposed to the wide open spaces of the internet where anyone could write something.
Student organisations are fundamentally different from the rest of the media in this sense because they exist for a very different purpose. As they are not constrained by the bottom line, their reason for existing is to serve the students that want to contribute to and read the paper, and these needs necessitate the continued existence, in some form or other, of print. Whereas professional media are selling their finished product, student media is selling a role in the process of making news – and tangible evidence of that role is of the utmost importance.
Whether or not this is a good thing is open to debate.
Given the ruinous costs of running a full print operation, and the money this inevitably draws away from other societies, moving completely to online would allow for a more flexible and much cheaper student newspaper as well giving students more chances to contribute. It is ironic that, despite the average student writer’s view that writing an online piece is somehow ‘lesser’ than print, in reality online work is far more important for showing off to parents/friends from home/future employers because it is more visible and allows you to appear as though you are involved in a professional-looking organisation. For instance, having written over 200 articles during the two years and ten months I have been a student journalist, I’d say 60-70% (perhaps more) of my work has been exclusively online.
However most people get writing for emotive reasons, and the desire to show off or get something off your chest bears little relation to impressing future employers with your online presence three years down the line. So whilst student media is creating genuinely sparkling and innovative online developments, it cannot ever fully move away from its printed roots. Ultimately it is ‘student first, media second’.