LSE needs to invest in student journalism

Student journalism is invaluable for career as well as community building

For many acclaimed journalists, the answer to how to start in this cut-throat world is clear: join your student paper in university. Student papers, both in the UK and across the pond, are the platforms that catapult young journalists into accomplished careers. More than that, student papers are at the centre of campus democracy.

Universities are like small towns, packed with their own communities, leaders, and controversies. Apart from providing a sense of community, student papers play the role of watchdogs. In a Joint Statement of the American Association of University Professors, the powers that be praise student papers as “valuable aids in establishing and maintaining an atmosphere of free and responsible discussion and of intellectual exploration on the campus.” Student papers – when read by faculty and management staff – bring to the fore the views of students that may not have permeated through surveys and focus groups. My comment piece on the failures of LSE100 got me a meeting with the LSE100 Director, which led to very productive discussions regarding the course.

Every once in a while, student papers break a big story, shedding light on bad practices, untold stories and deep investigations. It is in these breakthrough moments that the value of an editorially independent student press is beyond question.

Apart from their outward-facing value, student papers are impressive training grounds.  Professor Charlie Beckett, director of LSE’s journalism think tank Polis, has called student journalism a prime environment for budding journalists, allowing a safe space to “screw up, to be adventurous”. Student papers are a place for learning by doing, which explains their sometimes shoddy quality. Through failing, we learn how to manage sources, how to target articles, conduct interviews and edit our work. We also learn – through blood and tears – how to take criticism well.

The Beaver particularly, has a long list of former editors and contributors now working in the highest levels of the industry. Prashant Rao, former Beaver editor, is Global Editor of The Atlantic; Fatima Manji contributed and edited the paper during her studies at LSE, and would later become the first UK news presenter to wear a hijab in 2016; Paul Klebnikov edited the paper during his PhD programme and would become the first editor for the Forbes Russian edition, before he was murdered in 2004, in what was widely reported as a contract killing. The list goes on, with Bernard Levin, a recurrent contributor, called “one of the most famous [and] most controversial British journalists and broadcasters of the second half of the last century” in his Times obituary. More recent Beaver editors and contributors are following in these footsteps, with some now working for the likes of the BBC, the Financial Times, HuffPost, and Sky news.

Student papers almost universally face two problems. The first is threats to editorial independence, especially during SU election seasons. Many editors deal with threats of dismissal, forced reprinting, and mandated content on a daily basis. The Beaver has faced these problems in the form of thinly veiled threats of budget cuts, revoked access, and unfounded investigation. Financial dependence, though sometimes sadly inevitable, brings with it the real danger of closure. The Beaver receives close to a pound per year per LSE student from the Union. In the United States, universities that compete for the same students give much more to their papers. Our American editors who attend small liberal arts colleges calculate that their papers get closer to 7 dollars per year per student. Money comes with responsibility, of course, and if Minouche wants to splash some on us, we’re happy to take on added responsibility (HINT, HINT).

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