By Tom Mitchell
“Trashy journalism from a trashy student newspaper”. “Scurrilous and inaccurate”. “THIS IS A DISGRACEFUL RAG”.
These are just some of the comments that readers have left under Palatinate articles over the past few months. Accusations of partisanship, poor reporting, and general incompetence abound in our comment section just as they do in the Mail or Guardian. No matter that those newspapers print over one million copies per day, compared to our fortnightly 3,000, the principle is the same. Even the University saw fit to accuse Palatinate of “misinformation” earlier this year in an email sent out to thousands of students.
It seems student newspapers are collateral damage in the general plummet in levels of trust in journalism that the past few years have seen.
Given all of this, you would be forgiven for thinking that being a student journalist is an altogether thankless task. Spending countless hours holed up in an undersized bunker beneath the students’ union, adjusting margins by millimetres and proof-reading until words have lost all meaning – who would voluntarily do that?
Well, I did. And the last two terms of editing Palatinate, privileged enough to be working with some of the most dedicated and talented students in Durham, have shown me why student journalism, despite its many inevitable flaws and shortcomings, is still so important.
Our News team have been relentless in holding the University to account. They revealed the documents that showed the University’s (subsequently retracted) plans to put online-degrees at the centre of a “radical restructuring” of Durham’s educational offer. They gave a platform to staff who were set to lose out from the (subsequently shelved) college operations review. They reported on the University’s use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) to silence student complaints, and the University’s shameful lack of BAME staff that might form part of the reason why prospective Black students are less than half as likely as white students to put Durham as their first-choice university.
Outside of News, the rest of the paper has done equally important work. Platforming students who highlight Durham’s “need to change” on issues of racism, misogyny and classism, and detailing the myriad experiences of Durham students during lockdown. From January to March, the entire editorial board committed themselves to shining a light on the issues of mental health that are often bubbling under the surface during a student’s time in Durham.
All of this has been done in the last six months, and I am totally convinced that only dedicated student journalists writing for a properly funded student newspaper (thank you, SU!) could have achieved it. I fully appreciate the allure of social media and anonymous confession pages – indeed, I am an avid consumer of both – but the fact that Palatinate’s readership figures for the year are the highest on record convincingly suggests that the demand for student journalism still exists.
In this online edition, our writers keep up the excellent work. Politics and Comment continue the conversation around Black Lives Matter and Pride Month, while SciTech talk about animals getting drunk. In Indigo, Food & Drink have collated a number of Black-owned businesses to support. There are plenty more besides these, and it will all be available for your perusal over the next few days.
As you might have guessed from the self-indulgent and reflective tone of this editorial, my time at Durham has come to an end. I will cherish my three years in the wonderful little city, which has had such an influence on me: I’ve made friends I know are for life, learnt to like Newcastle Brown Ale, and somehow transformed my franglais into authentic français. I know that I am lucky that my memories of Durham are broadly positive, and I sincerely hope that the University continues to make steps to make its environment altogether more welcoming for everyone.
There’s not much else to say. To those of you who are also leaving Durham, good luck! And to those of you who are returning in October, I hope you come back ready to read more “trashy journalism from a trashy student newspaper” – we always appreciate it when you do.