The Role of Student Journalism

An editorial
by Chris Hibbard
Editor-in-Chief
The Meliorist
2006-2008

The Role of Student Journalism

In the wee small hours of Saturday morning, I found myself embroiled in a wonderful chat with my pal Magoo about the news biz. Our conversation was particularly concerned with, “what exactly is the role of a student newspaper”. This conversation really got me thinking, and so became the topic of this week’s editorial.

In a very general sense, the role of The Meliorist is to simply disseminate news and entertainment to those on campus. While there are many papers like The Meliorist all across the country, none of them are the “officially-unofficial student newspaper” of the University of Lethbridge. I say “officially-unofficial” here for the following reasons.

By calling ourselves the official U of L newspaper, it becomes confusing and debatable as to whether the U owns the newspaper and thereby the content inside.  This is not so. By calling ourselves a “student newspaper” in the traditional sense, it implies that we’ve got students together supervised by someone working and writing for credit or striving towards a career in journalism. For the most part, this is not so either.

The Meliorist is an autonomous body that just so happens to be located in the SU building. We work for ourselves as a small business, our staff are paid, and we share certain problems with many other small businesses – legal issues and so on. However, as an autonomous body, my staff are responsible to me, and we all are accountable to only one body – you, our readership.

Did you know that as the “officially-unofficial” voice of U of L students, any and all students/faculty/staff/community members are allowed and encouraged to submit their own content at any time? All you have to do is email it in to me or any other staff member. It’s as simple as that. (See contact email addresses in the right-hand column of this page.)

Now, in a perfect world, The Meliorist would be chock-full of original and unique content directly related to the U of L and its students. This does not happen every week. Instead, we often run some local news, mixed with national news and news from around the world. This is a conscious decision that The Meliorist staff decided on – and is a reflection of The Meliorist staff’s interests and opinions.

With this being said, our goal truly should be to try to report on all things related to U of L staff and students – from the toilet paper in the bathrooms to the salary of the U of L President.

And therein lies the proverbial rub: the Meliorist staff are all students, with other lives beyond the walls of our little office. Only one of the Meliorist staff is trained in journalism and media ethics. To tackle huge controversial stories each week would be, in my mind, both impossible and troublesome.

The really good stories deserve to be focused on and take their time. One mistake can financially make or break a small newspaper, and in the process, the reputation of the author who tackles it.

Another problem with a student paper is that, as students, the staff changes every year. With this turnover comes a learning curve which takes weeks to get used to.

While I would love to see hard-hitting stories that shout from the pages, and feel that most of the U of L administration and faculty would be willing (if mildly reluctant) to speak to The Meliorist, such hard-hitting stories are time-consuming and difficult to get right.

Which leads me to another point. A letter to the editor last week blasted our news editor for the ‘colour’ he included in a recent news story. The author of that letter was absolutely right – Keith’s story was too opinionated and biased. At the heart of journalism is the fundamental idea of reporting facts without bias: being a respectable media source and doing all the things that professional papers do. However, as humans, as students, and as untrained journalists, we all have our biases. Some famous dead dude once said something like this regarding freedom of expression: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend, to the death, your right to say it.”

As you readers may have learned by now, the current Meliorist staff tend to be rather left-leaning liberal types, with certain interests that are apparent by their recurrence in our issues. Keith, our news editor, has a passion for national and international politics. Martine, our features editor, loves CKXU radio and Youtube videos. Amy, our entertainment editor, loves live rock and roll and movies starring buff men with swords. Kris, our sports editor, admits that he has had to learn a ton of information about different sports just to keep his section filled with new material, since he never followed hockey that much before getting this job, for instance.

The rest of the team, including myself, like all sorts of different things – from cats sleeping in funny positions, to dirty jokes, the theatre, cannabis cookies and science-fiction books.

To be more concise, The Meliorist strives to be accurate in its reporting, entertaining in its delivery of content and clean and easy in its appearance, all the while maintaining our own sense of personality and humour.

The Meliorist staff next year might revamp the whole system, deciding to take more of an irreverent approach, akin to Mad magazine or The Onion, or may choose to be a hard-hitting “just the facts” kind of paper.

We do try to keep students informed or make them thoughtful about issues and events that they might otherwise have no knowledge about. Even though I’ve admitted our bias, we still try to remain somewhat balanced, realizing that there are more sides to a story than the one that we print. There is a certain noticeable apathy among U of L students though – who only choose to express themselves and their opinions when they are angry, or when they are anonymous, on the TLF page. It’s better than nothing, I guess.

Keep in mind though, readers, that as your officially-unofficial newspaper, we are accountable to no one but you. Without you, we would be out of a job. If there’s something you’d like to see in the paper, you just need let us know. As awesome as we are, our telepathic skills are still maturing.

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~ by Chris Hibbard on October 31, 2008.

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