The importance of student journalism

70 years on from the foundation of Trinity News, Nina Crofts discusses the value of writing for a student publication

I started participating in student journalism when I was in high school. 15 to be exact. And when I started, I really just saw my articles as more fun versions of the academic essays I was writing every day in class. It wasn’t really until an article I wrote in March 2020, about why I view marriage as an archaic and outdated institution, and not one I wish to participate in, that I really understood the power of expressing my voice through journalism, and the unique appeal and responsibility of being both a student and a journalist.

Most of the things reported on in student publications directly or indirectly affect the journalists writing about them. This differs from mainstream publications, who often have the privilege to objectively cover things that they have no affiliation with. Student journalists, on the other hand, often find themselves trying to put on a different “hat” when it comes to reporting, but in my eyes part of the magic of being a student journalist is that despite putting on a different “hat,” it’s still the same you.

We know what is important to report on because we are constantly surrounded by the student voice. An Irish Times or Independent reporter would never know about the burden of exorbitant rents, or how so many campus spaces are not accessible, or feel the fears of examination changes in light of artificial intelligence. Students know what students care about, and what issues aren’t getting the attention they deserve. 

I’ve always been drawn to comment articles, particularly because it’s a place I feel my voice holds a special significance, and one where my words and my articles come together to represent me. Opinion pieces are unique, in that they are the only article format that doesn’t have to be entirely objective. I, and many other comment writers I chat to, find this freeing. It’s a cathartic experience to tackle an important issue with your own nuance and even your own frustration or praise, and it feels especially personal.

Comments and editorials are also some of the articles that welcome the most controversy. In high school, as the opinions editor of my student paper, I oversaw the publication of an article that explained her moral objection to being friends with someone who supported Trump. Despite living in a fairly liberal area, it was met with a flurry of hateful comments first from people in our school, then from people across the country. 

I look back on articles I wrote two or three years ago and note not just their lasting impact on my worldview, but how well some of them have stood up over time. In the leadup to the 2020 election, I penned a piece about how I didn’t feel we have a moral obligation to vote. I remember feeling incredibly hesitant at that time to make a case for which none of my friends or family agreed with me, but with all my friends approaching voting age and my moral dilemma surrounding supporting the Biden campaign, I felt it necessary. 

I’m proud of 15-year-old me, and in the midst of Biden’s abysmal policy decisions on Israel-Palestine, I’m glad I had the space to freely argue those principles when I felt them. 

A large part of the power with student journalism is also the ability to call attention to injustices we see on our college campuses every day. In my research for this article, I came across the 2017-2018 media frenzy encountered by Trinity News. During that year many critical stories were reported on, including the impeachment of the President of UCDSU for restricting information to abortion access in a fresher’s magazine, to the Hist’s invitation of Nigel Farage to receive a medal, to a student accidentally being withdrawn from college due to errors with Academic Registry. These issues all matter to students, and are reported on students in a far more personal manner than someone completely outside of our bubble. Who better to explain the experience of accidental withdrawal than the student themself, or the discomfort of Nigel Farage’s presence to a student impacted by his racist remarks, or affected by Brexit? The student voice is powerful particularly for that personal appeal.

Freedom of expression is protected in the Irish constitution, and much needed steps have been taken in recent years to avoid loopholes within this. Up until 2020, to publish “blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter” was a criminal offence. However, it still restricts or bans any content deemed unacceptable, offensive, or obscene, or likely to incite hatred or violence. While it’s important to acknowledge the steps taken, having such subjective censorship manners is still a setback, and one that can be exploited far too easily in the wrong hands.

Media ownership in Ireland is highly concentrated to a few select publications, which is another reason that journalism for-students, by-students is so critical. We need to encourage publications that foster a wide variety of views, not allow the media to be dominated by select echo chambers and industries.

We need to protect student journalists, but we also need to expand the scope we can cover in student journalism. The student voice is powerful because it is diverse, and it’s critical to reflect that in publishing and work on outreach to communities we aren’t covering aptly. The press also has an important role in defending itself. We owe it to ourselves to cover issues of press freedom as far as the Middle East and as close to home as RTÉ funding. Freedom of information is one of the most sacred things we have, and one that we as students need to protect.