Student journalists must work together to effect real change

Chase Smith 24 June 2015

The lecture halls of Cambridge are lined front to back with budding journalists, aspiring politicians, and ambitious minds bloated with self-righteous entitlement. In past years the desperate thirst of these individuals to bequeath their personal opinions and political beliefs upon the masses has been satiated by the establishment of carefully formatted blogs and the odd extended Facebook rant.

However, in past months it seems that the humble blog has lost its popularity, and nowadays the in-vogue thing to do when you want to project your own opinion onto the world is to start up your own personal magazine.

With the establishment of Blue Specs marking only the latest development in a trend of new student publications all promising to be the ‘next big thing’ and vowing to revolutionise the Cambridge journalism scene, we’re left asking the question – are we really in need of a journalistic renaissance?

Cambridge is a place where disputes, discussion, and argument thrive; where ‘comment’ sections are constantly awash with debates ranging from Gardies’ potential closure, to mental health provision, to the General Election; where if you want your opinions debated you can have them published with ease. But why, all of a sudden, does it seem like more and more individuals are bypassing dropping an email to the section editors of the established student newspapers, and deciding that the best option is to go it alone?

Student journalism is often a crucial resource for student activism – something which has seen a promising surge in recent months – and it therefore needs unity not only to maintain its own strength, but to provide real weight to the words of the individuals it publishes. To continue establishing new publications is damaging to the student journalism scene because of a simple quality versus quantity argument.

If the mass of newly founded publications were well-structured, had determined motives, and published high-calibre content, then there would be no problem. The real issue is that many do not reach these standards. 

Often new publications are merely the by-products of an individual’s self-entitlement, and a late night decision to whip out the credit card and purchase a swiftly thought-through domain name. They are fireworks which shoot up, explode, and fall back down to the ground as quickly as they rose, leaving a trail of smoke in the sky and little else.

Without the fuel and support provided by established publications and their experienced team members, their potential burns out – their articles reduced to little more than sparks in a faulty machine. Quite frankly, it’s a shame: the voices of many talented individuals and the points of many important arguments are lost in a rash and ill-prepared platform with incredibly limited readership.  

So let’s stop attempting to bring down the system from the outside, and instead embrace the established publications of Cambridge journalism. Let’s take a look at them from the inside, admire their brilliance, acknowledge their faults, and then try to write for them. There’s a reason why Cambridge student newspapers are among the best in the country: they bring with them a sense of professionalism that break-away papers lack, a deep understanding of journalistic accountability where the ‘right to offend’ and the ‘right to free speech’ aren’t just topics of egotistical arguments, but important real-world considerations, and ultimately a regular readership, which provides a broader platform for debate.

If you want to work in journalism you can't just set up a newspaper and expect it to be the Guardian within a week; you need to learn how to work to deadlines in an industry where thousands of opinionated voices are being constantly hurled around, and where it isn’t necessarily shouting loudest which gets your voice heard.

Equally, serving as an editor-in-chief isn’t simply a case of prioritising your own articles and opinions: at the heart of journalism is debate, and that’s as much about listening to the opinions of others as it is about sharing your own.

Student journalism in Cambridge is in need of greater diversity, openness, and representation. However – excluding the safe-spaces and vital platforms created by publications supporting marginalised groups – there’s no reason why this cannot be achieved within the pre-existing structures of Cambridge journalism, and by the established student publications which ultimately are most qualified for the job. To generate real change we need unity – not division – and this can only be provided by the established publications.



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