January 24, 2006

A News Vacuum?

The Boar have caused controversy again by running a story which the Union has called "misleading…alarmist…inaccurate". Their front page story was about a girl who – it says – was stabbed with a drug-laden needle during last week's Top Banana.

I have no idea whether the story is true or accurate, but I think it's safe to call it 'alarming', because as the article says, the Union is considered to be relatively safe.

But this has got me thinking about the quality of 'news' on campus. Not the quality of reporting, but the quality of the 'stories' that are there to be told.

I had an unscientific look at the news sections of newspapers at other universities. Exeter and York are similar universities in many ways, and their papers are also similar. But their news sections are up to double in size, and the stories covered are just as 'student-related' as the Boar's.

First, lets discount the possibility that this is a fault of journalism. I'm biased (RaW's News Editor), but I'm fairly sure that there are plenty of people chasing campus stories. There's the Boar, RaW and WTV all trying to find out what's going on, and doing a good job of reporting it.

Rather, I think there's a lack of stories to be reported. The argument that we're a campus Uni doesn't hold much water, as York's packed newspaper demonstrates, and I know it's not because student journalists are lazy.

So why are news stories on campus so sparse? Is it because the Warwick environment is uninspiring? Is it because we're wallowing in bureaucracy? Is it anything to do with class or background of students? Is it because the most controversial stories tend to be about one Union hack versus another?

I'd be interested to know what the news-makers and news-reporters think. Because I'm not sure why we have so many slow news days (or weeks!). It's great to research an issue and ask questions about whether that issue is relevant to students. But it would be good if something eventful happened a bit more often!

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  1. With most news being bad news of one sort or another, isn't is rather a good thing that there isn't much newsworthy going on at Warwick?

    Although more news in place of "humour" would be a good thing for the Boar, I think.

    24 Jan 2006, 22:49

  2. So what fills the pages of York and Exeter? Is there any indication in the stories they publish that might show why we haven't got as much?

    24 Jan 2006, 22:59

  3. Lee Davis

    What sort of news do you think is lacking? What do you class as news? There isn't much news in the local press, and the university constitutes only a fraction of that populous.
    Most happenings on campus are of interest to only a handful of people. The campus is relatively safe and crime free, and the University tries very hard to supress any bad publicity. Also the privacy of individuals involved has to be considered.

    You could try padding out the news columns with rumours and gossip going round the university, but all this does is mean that when things do eventually happen they are no longer news, and any worthwhile stories would probably unattributable or unprintable to protect the identity of the source.

    24 Jan 2006, 23:11

  4. "May you live in interesting times."

    I'd rather not. Lots of big stories often mean instability, so I'd rather things were dull and safe.

    24 Jan 2006, 23:45

  5. Hetty Wainthrop

    I'd rather see more totally made up news than boar humour, either that or make the humour actually funny.

    Maybe it's because warwick students are all so ridiculously boring

    25 Jan 2006, 11:14

  6. Matt Chapman

    Hi there,

    Sorry I'm not signed in, I'm locked out of my ITS account.

    I wrote the article in question, so I guess I should mention that I spoke to the girl in question before, during, and after the publication of the article, and she has confirmed that everything there is correct, although one part was slightly misworded by me—she doesn't have to wait 6 months for the results of the initial blood tests, she has to wait 6 months for a second blood test to confirm the results of the first one. Apart from that, there's not a word there that isn't confirmed by the girl, although the Union seems to disagree in the rather interesting statement on the Portal, which rewards careful reading.

    The reason the two York student papers are able to produce more news than us is, in large part, because they aren't weekly newspapers. When you're producing so few papers that you're able to devote an entire week just to designing and laying up each issue, it's understandable that the volume of what you're producing is quite large, and that you consistently win national awards. Imagine if the Boar (or RaW, or WTV) produced one or two news reports each term, and could put anything that happened at any point in that time in it, as well as research those stories for months—every issue of the Boar would have a huge, massively detailed News section. Comparing Warwick media outlets to those at York is like comparing an undergraduate's short essay to a PhD thesis and complaining that the short essay hasn't got enough depth. The problem for us is that every year, at the Guardian Student Media Awards and the National Student Journalism Awards, we're placed next to newspapers like the York Vision and expected to perform at the same level. I don't think there's any reason we can't (this coming issue is shaping up to be a very good one) but it does mean we have to work ten times as hard to do so.

    I read Exepose (the Exeter paper) every week (we get other student papers in the post) and, credit where credit is due, there's been a noticeable difference in the quality of the paper this year—the staff there are working their rear ends off, and it shows. I really hope they get recognition for that this year, because they deserve it. Still, I don't think the quantity of actual news is much higher than ours.

    I think you're right, though, that there isn't that much that happens on the Warwick campus—we regularly complain at the fact that the Oxford Student seems to be able to report murders/kidnappings/bizarre burglary sprees and a host of other weird and wonderful stories, while nothing seems to happen here. At the same time, though, I think there's a great deal that slips under our radar, and we can and should improve our newsgathering.

    25 Jan 2006, 11:48

  7. As far as I see it, the answer isn't a lack of stories as such, just our newsgathering methods.

    As others have already commented, news tends to be bad news, and I don't think this should be the case. All media outlets feel a pressure to lead with something dramatic and controversial and this shouldn't happen.

    Looking at the issue of York's Vision currently online (albeit from November), it leads with a dramatic front page splash – gang rape in York city centre. This disproves your point Chris about Warwick's isolated campus – the Vision's front story wasn't about a student nor York's campus: the writer linked it to York by asking if students were safe. If you remember last term, a girl (non student) was assaulted in a taxi in Leamington (reported by RaW, and I think the Boar), and this term Leam teenage Jack McLeod died in suspicious circumstances (covered by all outlets); similar things happen, but we didnít make it relevant to our audiences. The rest of The Vision's news doesnít seem that different – students annoyed at parking and a possible bar closure…sound familiar anyone?

    Again in the radio arena, Surge News, deemed the best in the UK of all things, broadcasts just 15 minutes a week. A quick visit to www.surgeradio.co.uk will reveal how frivolous the news they cover is.

    As this week (only half way through) has proven, there is enough news out there, but I think we have to be more creative in how we look at it. Half of news reporting isn't about uncovering a great scandal or detailing a heinous crime – it's about looking at something from a fresh angle and being creative. This term is packed with diary events, before anything else happens: the elections, green week, real ale festival, warwick volunteers/womens campaigns…I challenge each media outlet to cover these events, not in a negative framework, or just as they happen, but in the most creative and original way using their individual medium.

    Most of us doing this news malarky have journalistic aspirations…that's the skill editors will look for.

    25 Jan 2006, 12:43

  8. Sorry if I'm repeating anything above (I haven't read all the responses through) but when I worked on the Boar there was annoyance at York winning best student paper cos it was published once a term, while the Boar goes out weekly. Padding used to occur, and it mainly consisted of exciting things like 'fox sighted on campus' – a waste of paper really.

    25 Jan 2006, 18:15

  9. Matt – I sympathise with you about having to compete with York's newspaper at the awards. As Adam points out, we were beaten by Surge's effort, which is considerably smaller and less frequent than our own. We feel that our audience is much better served by regular news updates than occasional summaries. It's also a shame that our entry can only comprise seven minutes of 'best bits'. It's easy to find some best bits, but much harder to show consistent quality.

    Adam – I'm not a great fan of diary events. While there's a challenge in tackling a story in an innovative way, and making it relevant and interesting, it's a type of journalism which I can see being tedious. Yes, editors want someone who can turn something dull into something readable/watchable, but I hope they also want people who can respond to big events quickly and knowledgeably because of their experience in the field and good contacts! I suspect that the 24-hour news environment will make the second quality at least as sought after in broadcast journalism as the first.

    25 Jan 2006, 20:51

  10. P.S. Re-reading that, I sound a bit negative about bread-and-butter journalism. I'm not, but I'd like some hot and cold, rather than the slow sludge of less-than-thrilling press releases from the University!

    25 Jan 2006, 20:55

  11. Just to add, campus isnt really that crime-free, and the view that it is leads people to be more lax, and therefore, actually helps crime. A couple of days ago a student's computer was stolen yet again from a campus room, something that is becoming increasingly regular, and security measures need to be tightened. It wont be though, as such things are rarely reported, giving rise to a false feeling of securiy. In this case as well, it was particularly nasty, as a window security lock was broken, so the thieves were obviously well-prepared.

    28 Jan 2006, 21:29

  12. Thats a very interesting point, but at the same time, we can only report what we hear about. Is there some way the news media can keep track of these incidents to report them accurately?

    Perhaps some agreement with warwick security where they pass on details…although whether the university would be free with such negative publicity is another issue.

    29 Jan 2006, 12:18

  13. Jimmy Buckland

    Brum's 'Redbrick' seems to devote more space to News (with articles frequently longer) and I think they're weekly, although the standard of writing isn't generally as high as the Boar's.

    I'm all for having a lot more news in if its out there though.

    29 Jan 2006, 15:31

  14. Jimmy-the-B!! Jimmy-the-B!!


    29 Jan 2006, 18:20

  15. But have his balls dropped? I think we should be told.

    More seriously – Geetanjali – news will certainly go unreported if no-one reports it to news outlets in the first place. We need to be better at gathering news, but students need to make the most of the reporters they have on their doorstep.

    29 Jan 2006, 19:37

  16. There is always the danger that news may be exaggerated or sensationalised, a problem that many people, rightly or wrongly, have with the BOAR.

    29 Jan 2006, 20:50

  17. Adam

    Geetanjali, I think, mirroring the grown up, national media, broadcasting mediums have that problems less..From listening to/being involved with RaW and WTV over the past 2+ years, they have a far less tendancy to uncover 'scandal' etc but to report generally whats going on.

    And believe it or not, I think the Boar does try hard to keep things true and accurate, despite the odd cock up in the past.

    30 Jan 2006, 21:49

  18. Matt Chapman

    Hello again (still can't sign in),

    I can say with absolute honesty that, while I've been on the senior editorial board of the Boar, we haven't knowingly printed an inaccurate article.

    That said, a major problem with campus news outlets isn't that nothing happens, but that newsgathering is often not good enough to find it. It's not enough to wait for people to come to you with stories if you want news to be current and relevent.

    It's not perfect, but consider this week's Boar: the front page hasn't been reported by any campus news outlet or even by the Union/University, page 2 is reporting on a national issue with a Warwick angle, page 3 is an exclusive based upon a freedom of information act disclosure we got from the university, page 4 lead sees me track down and interview the guy who did the sex act on a postgraduate's clothes last year (he wasn't too keen to talk, but I got a few things out of him), page 5 is reporting, and pages 6–7 contain an exclusive interview with an IT expert who was on the team that worked on the Unitemps recovery project and thinks information security at Warwick isn't very good. Hardly any of the news in this week's Boar is based on our assuming that people will come and give it to us. That's not to say the Boar does newsgathering well, because it often doesn't, but to treat News as if it's something that magically comes to you is misguided. Sometimes it does, but that's not an assumption any news provider should make.

    It's fair to say that, on occasion, the Boar in the past has had a tendency to make mountains out of molehills and sensationalize stories. As earlier, I can say that this doesn't happen any more, or at least hasn't happened while I've been in a position to know about it.

    The Boar also tries to maintain a high standard in the news it does print, and this means that we're often not willing to print puff-pieces on, say, Union politics or NUS issues because, as far as we're concerned, that isn't news. There are plenty of student papers out there which fill more pages of news than we do, but much of what they use to fill that space does not qualify as news under our standards. I'd rather print seven pages of good, solid news than eleven of irrelevent and pointless news.

    01 Feb 2006, 02:41

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