Arguing the case for the tabloids in the second half of Ones to Watch’s debate on broadsheet vs tabloid, current editor-in-chief, Luke O’Brien and former opinion editor Thomas Steadman from the University of Southampton’s tabloid, the Soton Tab, say that students want fast and furious tabloid journalism, rather than the more long-winded output of traditional student papers…
The naivety of the broadsheet argument on Ones to Watch a few weeks ago, displayed the claim that “when it comes to variety, diversity and activism, the traditional broadsheet stands, as it always has, head and shoulders above its red top alternative”, is typical of many people who get involved in historically-established student media.
Many believe that by being involved in an established student paper, they automatically earn the right to put themselves above those who may have taken the tabloid or even reviewing route into media. Very rarely does one hear journalists at the Daily Telegraph or the Guardian saying that those involved in the Sun or Daily Mail aren’t good journalists; it is simply a question of writing style and target audience.
Whilst the broadsheet paper may have dominated five to ten years ago, it certainly doesn’t now. Technology has exploded into the student lifestyle. Facebook (it started in universities, don’t forget) is still an intrinsic part of the student mentality and Twitter is increasingly used throughout the student body. Coupled with a wealth of different smart phones, the way we devour news and events in a local and national manner has changed drastically.
People are no longer happy to wait 24 hours to read about what is happening just down the road; they want to know as much as they can as soon as possible. Student tabloids, often only an online presence, are frequently quicker off the mark with local news due to their streamlined editorial team and ability to project directly into the timeline of their target audience, especially through Facebook apps such as our new Soton Tab Reader which allows articles to ‘trend’.
Broadsheet newspapers will often only manage to print an article several days after the event, by which point students have already moved on and quite probably now couldn’t care less about that breaking news story that had already been reported on by the tabloids days before, resulting in many broadsheet copies being left unread.
It is also useful to bear in mind that students no longer want to read huge essays on news, or, in fact, most topics. Students want articles they can read and understand quickly and easily, ideally with a bite of humour to retain their interest. Tab writers, for instance, are encouraged to stick to a word limit of around 500 words for news and reviews, following the mentality that if something can’t be reported in 500 words, it will not be snappy and succinct enough to hold attention, inducing boredom and not enlightenment.
Students are force-fed academic journals and textbooks throughout their courses, consisting of thousands of words at a time. Why should they have to trawl through mounds of text to just find out the local campus news? Student tabloids take the pressure off students by replacing a long-winded and over-analysed academic paper-esque article with something that can be digested in under thirty seconds, with a humorous and a light-hearted tone.
Another argument used in Exepose editor Tom Payne’s post was that only broadsheets can give the time and effort towards a dedicated campaign for change. This is completely untrue. If anything, tabloid papers can campaign better. By avoiding the reliance upon a student union for money and facilities to print, independent tabloids can often hold their unions to account in a much more effective manner.
Independent tabloids are also more open to scrutiny. By relying upon their readership to succeed and entice advertising, they have to work harder to keep people happy through content and innovation. They are unable to rely on the fact that each month the bill would be picked up with no questions asked. Therefore, those involved within the tabloids often have a greater understanding of the student body then those in their ‘ivory towers’ looking down from the broadsheet media.
At the University of Southampton, the Tab’s extensive union election coverage through live blogs and candidate analysis articles, all the while adding a touch of humour to the formalities, helped increase involvement in student politics significantly more than the SU and its media outlets combined. A good student union will recognise that the independent media should be embraced.
However, whilst those who edit the broadsheet and ‘established’ student papers sneer at the tabloid papers springing up, they are blind to the bigger issue. Student media is changing, becoming hyper local, hyper fast and hyper relevant. If the SU sponsored print media does not adapt and change, it is possible that it will miss out completely and lose its readership for good. Competition in the media space is good; it makes everyone strive to be better. It’s worked for Southampton and will work for all universities around the country.
Think of tabloids as your frenemies rather than enemies.