Debate: Is student journalism elitist?

Comment looks into the stereotypes that surround the journalism industry and debates the roles class and education play at university level.

FOR: Zoe Haylock

Journalism invites elitism

To be a journalist, especially a comment journalist, you need to feel confident in your opinions and secure in your voice. You will have been exposed to news commentary and debates, and probably grew up in a household where newspapers were available.  It can be argued that those who have experienced a more elite form of education are more likely to have grown up in this atmosphere; these are middle class traits.

Moreover, journalism, especially in prestigious publications, is normally a middle-class profession. Students who are likely to be exposed to journalists and the concept of working in a professional job are from more elite backgrounds. Likewise, access to great journalism can be expensive. Many news sites are not free and newspapers are expensive. To many students, the idea of being interested in journalism is not a ‘normal’ thing to think about. If you look up the editors of leading papers, a large number hold Oxbridge degrees, and thus are likely to be privately educated.

What is daunting in student journalism is the feeling that you are not as good as your peers if you have not had journalistic experience. Moreover, some student journalists write on topics that can seem outlandish and elite. For example, although travel articles are important and worthwhile, if they constantly describe expensive trips abroad, students who cannot afford these luxuries may feel isolated.

Some student journalists write on topics that can seem outlandish and elite

Yet, my experience with student journalism has been largely positive. I felt uncertain whether I could write for student papers as I haven’t had much experience and I don’t tend to use complex words and sentences. Yet, for me, this has allowed me to feel like I have a unique voice to share. I have learnt that my voice is just as important and valid because it is different. I was thrilled to know that students can write for publications with no formal application. You can just write.

Most of my pieces for Palatinate have been on the subject of equality, class and inclusivity. The fact that I have been able to write this piece shows that Durham are engaged with the lack of diversity in student journalism and want to discuss it. This is especially important in the context of Durham University which is one of the most elitist universities in the UK.

I have been crudely asked by students if I would like the opportunity to learn the skills (whatever they may be) gained from a private school education in a summer course before arriving at university to equalise education. Whoever believes this is completely disillusioned. It is not students who should adapt, but the university. Student journalism should utilise the voices of students who have not received elite education because it keeps journalism fresh, diverse, and, more importantly, real.

There is no doubt that students from elite schools are more able to fit into this world

I love the accessibility of student journalism in Durham, but there is no doubt that students from elite schools are more able to fit into this world. To do more, student editors should make note of this disparity and work to make their journalism more real and accessible rather than snooty and up tight. That would make journalism seem more inclusive for incoming students and reduce the correlation between elite education and journalistic success.

While I have felt included and valid, it still holds true that students of privilege have it easier in accessing journalism, just like in most sectors in society.

AGAINST:

Student journalism is enhancing diversity and inclusivity

Student journalism is often criticised for harbouring elitism, but arguably it is only so as a symptom of an elitist industry.

There is no denying that journalism is inaccessible: the NCTJ, considered a pre-requisite to even attempt to begin a career in journalism, can cost between £4,000 and £6,000 and the route in through a postgraduate degree even more with City’s MA in Newspaper Journalism setting students back £10,200 for a one year course. And for all these, experience in journalism is a necessity which more often than not comes in the form of an unpaid internship from the likes of The Guardian, The Times or The Telegraph. Not only are unpaid internships morally questionable, they are most certainly exclusive and deny opportunity to anyone who is unable to give up paid work for weeks or months while financially supporting themselves in London.

Student journalism can’t fix this, but what it does do is allow people to experience and be involved in journalism who may not otherwise have the means financially. For contributors, it allows access to journalism to anyone who wants to dip their toe in without taking the plunge.

Student journalism allows access to anyone who wants to dip their toe in without taking the plunge

In this way then, student journalism is enhancing diversity and inclusivity. Contributing to a paper, like Palatinate, allows anyone to try writing and experience journalism. You don’t have to be a professional, you don’t need qualifications and you don’t even need to have written before, you just need an interest or an opinion and that’s good enough. Without student journalism, the only voices that would be heard and printed would be those who have already made it, sealing off rather than opening up the journalism industry.

Student journalism has also often played a role in exposing universities, particularly in allocation of funding and accommodation prices which plays the part in holding large and often closed off institutions like universities to account in ways they otherwise would never be, contributing to a more open, and hopefully less elitist, environment as a whole.

In March this year, for example, Trinity College Dublin’s paper The University Times, was threatened with defunding, forcing its closure, after they revealed dangerous hazing initiations from an elite and exclusive invite only society, Knights of the Campanile. In 2014, University of London announced it was going to shut down its student newspaper, London Student, after funding was denied. Importantly, the paper had been outspoken in its criticism for the university, exposing senior management at the university for extravagant trips to luxury spa hotels on their expenses accounts as well as supporting South African students against the apartheid back in the 1950s. Palatinate too has done its fair share, exposing the issue of accommodation fees pricing out students, and criticising the DUCFS for sexist and racist commentary.

Student journalism isn’t the dinners, payrolls and swanky London offices

I think student journalism suffers the elitist label largely because journalism is itself an industry with many problems; but what’s important to remember is that student journalism isn’t the dinners, payrolls and swanky London offices of The Times, The Sun or The Mirror: it’s a group of students, perhaps a little too interested in current affairs and politics, huddled around an old MacBook in a dodgy room in the back of the SU waiting for their next trip to the pub. A lot have never written before, many weren’t privately educated and most definitely don’t have media moguls for parents, but what they all do have is perhaps a little too much passion for a fortnightly newspaper and it’s that which shines through the pages of student journalism.

Image by Tom Parnell via Flickr.


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