The truth about student journalism

So if you’re a bit of a politico, keen on campus issues or just a genuinely nosey person, I’m guessing you pick up your student newspaper, or at least check out what is on its website every now and then. But do you ever wonder about the processes the publication actually goes through before it reaches your hands?

So I’m going to tell the truth about student journalism. From my experience, anyway.

Here are the stages my student newspaper, the Boar, goes through before printing:

  1. Section editors pitch/assign articles
  2. Writers draft and send in articles
  3. Section editors and deputy section editors edit, and sometimes ask writers to correct, articles
  4. Section editors and deputy section editors lay up newspaper pages, which usually includes extra editing
  5. Section editor makes a final check of the section
  6. Editor and deputy editors of the newspaper start to check over the various sections
  7. Sub-editors check over and suggest corrections for every single article in the newspaper
  8. Editor and deputy editors put in sub-editor corrections and finish checking over all sections
  9. Independent lawyer checks through the content of the newspaper and feeds back to editor
  10. Editor makes final check of the newspaper before sending it off to print

… So yeah, that’s quite a lot of work, right? That’s why you only get one newspaper a fortnight rather than a weekly edition. It takes us essentially from Thursday to Tuesday to get the whole thing completely finished, and that’s quite a few hours of work, particularly considering we have such a large editorial team of over 50 people.

When I tell people all this, or when people join the news team, they usually say something along the lines of: “Oh! I didn’t realise so much work goes into this newspaper!”. That is what inspired me to write this blog post; I honestly don’t think most people know the pains we go through in order to deliver you the latest campus news, gossip and issues.

On the whole, responses to the newspaper, and the news section in particular, seem to be positive – one of my latest articles on the website, about the Shard, has received over 40 likes and almost 1,000 hits at the time of writing this post. People come up to me and mention that they’ve read the newspaper and liked a certain piece, and sometimes even email me or message me.

Positive feedback is great and inspiring to hear, but equally, I do want to hear negative feedback as well: we’re always looking to improve the news section, and indeed, the whole paper. However, at times I become frustrated when I receive feedback that is downright rude, condescending and lacking understanding.

It’s cool if you notice a spelling mistake in an article, or a wrong name. After all, we’d rather know about it and correct it because we don’t want the wrong information out there. But please, point it out politely. Sorry, we can’t change the print issue, and despite all the layers it goes through before publication, sometimes we do miss tiny things when editing a 32-page issue.

Also, no matter how many times you try and say it, no, the Boar does not have any kind of political leaning. Whether that is to the left, to the right, towards the University or towards the Students’ Union.

“Why are there so many left-y articles in the comment section, then?” I hear you cry. Well, that all depends on who decides to contribute pieces. We can’t force people to write an article which is right-leaning! The comment section is all about the opinions of various students who wish to write for us; in no way does it represent the opinion of the entire editorial board as a collective.

In terms of news, we endeavour to remain as neutral as possible about all issues, whether campus, political or otherwise. This is why we are one of the few student newspapers in the country which is editorially independent from the University and the Students’ Union (we have our own independent lawyer to check through for legal issues). Although occasionally one of our writers might write something from a political slant, this is always removed during our editing process and we ensure they are given enough training and feedback to prevent this from happening again. From an editorial perspective too, I remain neutral; I wouldn’t say I have any particularly strong political views leaning either left or right anyway, and a lot of the time I don’t even have any opinion on a subject at all. For example, I’m not really sure if I agree with the latest controversy on campus, the student-led lectures, or not. I can see it from both sides.

Something else I have heard a number of times over the past year I’ve been news editor is “you’ve made me sound like a dick!” – well, no. When writing an article, all I do is quote what you’ve said and give other people a right to respond to what you’ve said, if necessary. Therefore, if you sound like an idiot in my article it’s you that has made yourself sound ridiculous…

Anyway, now I just sound like I’m launching a huge campaign in defence of my beloved section, so I’m going to crack down to my main point of this blog post: student journalism is not easy. The examples I have listed above prove that not only is there the potential for a lot to go wrong, but also that a lot of people read student media, from students, to staff, to other local publications.

It is a shame then, because really, my involvement with the Boar is meant to be on the sidelines of the degree which I am paying £9,000 a year for (although most of the time, it certainly doesn’t feel it!). And that’s what the problem is here. My position as news editor is very demanding and although I do put my all into it, I still don’t have the time to make my section as perfect as I wish it could be.

It needs to be noted that the position is totally voluntary – despite the position feeling like a job most of the time, and that I am hoping it will land me a real job eventually, I am actually doing this for fun!

And I do enjoy it, 95 percent of the time. I appreciate any kind of feedback I receive as it encourages me to try and improve all the time – after all, it’s better that I make these mistakes now, instead of when I’m (hopefully!) working at a non-student publication. However, please, next time you go to email me and tell me that one of my articles hasn’t gone into enough depth or that you totally disagree with it, stop and think that it’s not as easy as you expect it to be.

If you don’t think an article is in-depth enough, you do the digging and write it for us – I would be delighted.

But please, keep the feedback coming, whether positive or negative. After all, bad news is better than no news… Right?

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