The student journalist of 2015

I was inspired last week when I read about SAC.Media, a digital-native hyperlocal publication at California’s Mt. San Antonio College. Students abolished the newspaper and shut down the website; now they publish directly to Medium and other social media. They’re taking the whole philosophy of connecting with users where they already are — on social media — and running with it.

The obvious question: how are they monetising this?!

I asked SAC.Media’s Editor of Student Media Albert Serna Jr. He’s very open about the challenges posed by such a bold rejection of convention:

I think that right now in media — whether that is student, commercial or independent — there is a fear that we won’t get paid. And for the most part we aren’t getting paid. But that is where innovation comes in. We, student journalists, need to start making bold moves in the way we deliver.
Talking to different people who understand the shift in journalism helps. … We are working hard to find a model that fits our way of reporting that will also bring in money to the program. But as of yet, at least to my knowledge, no one has figured out a working model.

Journalism needs us to experiment

London Student, a digital-native publication, relaunched as a worker cooperative in May

Here’s the thing. Student media and personal projects give you the opportunity to experiment. We are far less constrained by the barriers facing traditional newspapers, such as massive overheads. This gives student media start-ups — that’s essentially what we are — an edge over mainstream competitors. Adam Tinworth summed it up when writing about Re/code’s acquisition by Vox Media:

…the thing that used to give advantage — size and resources — is not necessarily as useful as it once was. We throw money at launches, but then burden them with overheads that the nascent business can’t support.

What’s useful for the student journalist of 2015 is the unlimited freedom to experiment, to make mistakes and maybe even change the world.

But there’s something wrong with our priorities.

I’m still seeing print-centric student publications

For a lot of student news outlets, it seems like digital still comes second to print. And I get why.

I remember the thrill of seeing my name in print for the first time, and again, and again. I took great pride in having my work published on paper and distributed around campus. I even stuck my clippings on the wall of my bedroom in halls. I framed the splash I was most proud of.

My wall display in first year at King’s

Print is valuable, it’s substantial, you can send it to your parents and grandparents and they’ll get what you’re doing. Producing something in a whole, finished package is undoubtedly satisfying. But if your peers at university are getting all their news from social media, why are you spending five times as much of your time on print production than on digital?

I’m not telling you to cancel your contract with the printers and leave the paper bins empty. I’m not even telling you to spend less time on print. At London Student, we regularly discuss the potential for incorporating print into our offering. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of putting something in people’s hands.

But the student journalism business is not the print business. We need to strive to build communities and platforms in a variety of ways. We need to change our strategies in line with the needs of our readers.

Ben Jackson has been a student journalist on and off since 2011. He has been interim editor of London Student, chief sub-editor at The Student Journals, and editor of Roar! News.

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