The Onion and the virtues of student journalism

Student papers do what professionals can’t – or won’t

Student journalism occupies a unique position in the media world. As I’ve noted in a couple of other columns, student journalists can end up recreating some of the worst aspects of professional journalism but can also do better in others.
Because we’re a non-profit, we can have a staff that rivals in size Atlantic Canadian daily newspapers and far outstretches weekly papers like The Sackville Tribune Post. We dedicate most of our budget to printing and to paying reporters and editors. This contrasts sharply with professional papers that spend much of their revenue on advertising staff.
Our scope and our mission differ considerably as well. Our mission is primarily to report on issues relevant to campus and the surrounding community. When we do report on larger issues, such as elections or budgets, we try to take an angle that localizes the story. What does the budget promise to students? We try to avoid regurgitating news stories that would be better reported by the CBC or The Globe and Mail, and focus on stories that would otherwise be uncovered.
Satirical online news site The Onion runs some excellent articles that cut to the heart of what is good and bad about student journalism. At its worst, student journalism is far sloppier than professional journalism, and is lazily reported and edited. The first is “Inaccuracy Of Every Single Detail Forces Student Paper To Pull Story At Last Minute.” Pick up any number of student papers and you’ll find this to be fairly true. The Argosy has run some stories in the past which fall into this category where the fundamental premise of the article is false.
My favourite Onion article, however, is “Reporter For High School Newspaper Most Professional Journalist In Nation.” This shows the best side of student journalism, on which the journalists are principled and not subject to censorship or pressure from the paper’s owners. We also do not feel compelled to sensationalize news in order to draw a bigger viewership or readership.
In the aftermath of the 2014 faculty strike at Mount Allison, students were agitating for a tuition rebate for lost class time. There were demonstrations and leaflets, and a number of students were heavily involved.
At that time, I was the Argosy’s political beat reporter and had spent a lot of time covering the strike and its consequences. One of the major Atlantic news channels asked the Argosy if anyone at the paper could speak to a video journalist about a rebate protest going on that day, and I agreed. I spoke about how I thought that most students on campus believed we deserved a rebate, but that if we really wanted it we needed to have bigger demonstrations than the 40-person march which had just taken place.
When I tuned into the news that evening, I discovered they had filmed the march to make it appear as if there were a couple of hundred students there, and edited out the part of my answer that said students needed to turn out in better numbers.
The outlet wanted the protest to be a bigger story than it was so that it could feature prominently in the evening news. The Argosy, on the other hand, could critically report on the turnout, even though our editorial board had endorsed a rebate, because we do not rely on viewership or readership to fund our operations.

Note: Thanks to Computing Services, the public editor now has an email address. If you have any corrections or concerns about anything published in The Argosy, please send any of these to [email protected]

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