Reinventing the role of student media

Written by Theo Davies-Lewis, an undergraduate studying Archaeology and Anthropology at St Hugh’s College and President, Oxford University Media Society.

The author speaking to the Principal of Lady Margaret Hall and former Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger

Student media is a funny thing.

As discussed by Mansfield student Jorge Lopez Llorente in his recent article for this channel, being a student journalist has its advantages and disadvantages; it’s a very strange place to be in your “career”, and is a mix of pressure and fun.

There are so many avenues to explore — from radio broadcasting to newspaper copyediting — so that one can always find some way to contribute to the media environment at any university.

I have argued previously Oxford has had a very traditional media offering, with newspapers and magazines dominating the literature read by students of the University.

However, Oxford was rather unique at the beginning of this century in having a media society.

From 2004–2014 the Oxford Media Society hosted speakers and events aimed to engage students specifically with media figures. It wasn’t like these big organisations, forums or unions that do a great job welcoming a wide array of speakers from different sectors of society, but it was all media: print, tv, online, and more.

Since the society declined in 2014, it’s not surprising that I never knew it existed when I came up as a fresher in October 2016.

Up to a point, I had a very traditional experience at Oxford with student media; I indulged in newspapers, newsletters, freelance journalism, but then when the activities of this previous society became known to me (from glancing over a society handbook at the Students’ Union) I thought of how I could reinvent the role of student media.

But then I realised that this society wasn’t just unique to Oxford, but to the UK as a whole

My idea was to relaunch this media society and transform it into a forum or society for media in Oxford. I didn’t think it would be too difficult, either; after all, by November 2017, I had the support of Principal of Lady Margaret Hall and former Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, as our Senior Member.

But then I realised that this society wasn’t just unique to Oxford, but to the UK as a whole. It is hard to find dedicated media societies across the UK, which is surprising considering our current political, social and technological climate, and therefore I had bigger aspirations for this society to have national significance.

As a result, over the last few months, I have successfully gathered the support of over twenty patrons for a new and fresh media society at Oxford, including our Chancellor Lord Patten, former BBC and ITV Chairman Lord Grade, media executives such as Roger Mosey and Nicholas Coleridge, as well as top-class journalists such as Suzy Klein, Zeinab Badawi and Christina Lamb.

Our Trinity term card welcomes speakers such as Controller of BBC World Service, Mary Hockaday and Editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Farrah Storr, to Oxford — with Jon Snow launching the society on April 27 in an event with our Senior Member. Our website has also been developed to an extremely high standard by a dedicated and diverse committee of students, whilst our promotional video is a testament to the professionalism we maintain at the society.

And this society is necessary, by the way.

It’s not an echo chamber for old-school broadcasters or traditional journalists (even though they are important!). In the wake of breaches of data servers and the role of social media companies called into question, there needs to be some form of arena for the media — as diverse as the term covers and how wide-ranging the industry now is — to sit down and talk about what the challenges and opportunities are in this century. Alan Rusbridger, likewise, emphasised that we were now living in a world of “information chaos”, and we have to try and process that.

Having students taking the lead on structuring debate on these issues is new and vital territory for our generation to take. It completely changes what a student could be doing to involve themselves in the media landscape when going to university. It offers students, as well as media experts, the opportunity to engage with arguments and debates that they wouldn’t normally face in their day-to-day academic or professional lives.

This is not to say that student media has been going in the wrong direction; but as Jorge wrote last week: to be involved with student media and journalism, you must always be able to “adapt”. Importantly, the media society itself needs to adapt. Of course, one can highlight the ten years of success the society enjoyed, but it is not acceptable for us — considering many people’s hard work and our support base — that we should leave this society fall into the abyss again.

Arguably we are in a far better position than those who were involved in the media society previously. The privileged academic position that we are in is not so different to what was experienced ten years ago, but it is fair to say that since 2004 the media landscape has become such an omnipresent component of students’ lives that it will implore many to be engaged with ideas surrounding its future.

We are already seeing this with the collegiate ambassador network we are developing, as well as our membership subscriptions, but momentum must be maintained to ensure this society is sustained in the future.

This is the “new media” century. There are several opportunities for us, as a generation, to get this right. Hopefully, our society can play its part in bringing people to engage and debate like never before.

Theo Davies-Lewis is President of the Oxford University Media Society, which is relaunching as a Oxford University Media Society in Trinity term 2018. To get involved please visit the website: www.oxfordunimediasoc.com


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