THE BLOG

The Student Tabloid and the Trolls

08/07/2013 15:07 BST | Updated 07/09/2013 10:12 BST

The Student Online Tabloid - the brand new, babe-in-arms medium that it is - emerges unapologetically as the most exhilarating introduction to journalism out. It stands liberated from the quaint intimacy of print broadsheet, from cut-outs for your scrapbook or voiceless criticism, and walks bawdily into a world of immediate, uncensored reaction and vast, raucous audiences. This, of course, comes at the cost of an unforgiving brutality of feedback.

The anonymity of the internet at large brings with it the exciting positives of more discussion, more openness and, maybe most importantly, more honesty. The audience, hiding comfortably behind their online avatars, have no reason to feel mitigated or restrained. Increasingly, this leads to internet comment sections being used as a depositary for public anger and frustration.

The terrain of the student online tabloid is, in many ways, even more perilous than that of its national counterparts. Universities - especially those operating on smaller campuses or in smaller towns - cultivate a much more claustrophobic environment for the online journalist in which an author's scandalous Saturday night antics are just as likely to be household knowledge as their most recent article. Audiences are only too ready to conflate a writer's personal exploits with his or her articles' views, journalistic ability and even eligibility to appear on the given tabloid in general. Over time, as Sebastian Salek says in his article for Wannabe Hacks, this even leads to the establishment of a public's link between tabloid journo and "terrible, terrible person".

To write for an online student tabloid is to throw yourself to the lions, both professionally and personally. The mauling so often afforded both new and experienced writers alike is a heady psychological fist to dodge, aiming itself both at you and your writing. Not only is the undergoing of such public torture worth it, however, it is also a necessary, important and oddly exhilarating process; survive it, bounce back, and the adrenaline rush becomes addictive. This is a white-knuckle experience reserved almost exclusively for the online tabloid journalist.

Yet, most importantly, this is a vital learning experience, and benefits not just the author, but their readers and also attitudes towards online tabloid writing in general.

My first experience in the lion pit was writing for The Cambridge Tab during my first year at university. I had been drawn to The Tab, most read and most hyped paper in Cambridge, through romantic illusions of by-lines, headshots and a fully-fledged author archive to my name. I had written an opinion piece on why men should move away from the world of showering and once again reclaim the bathtub. A fully harmless, light-hearted piece, I had thought to myself, and incapable of offending even the most sensitive of souls.

The comments came flooding in, and I was to be in for a shock. "Dear Ben, you're loud, annoying and simply not funny", said one anonymous commenter, whilst another entered into the dialogue with: "Dear Tab, do not let this prick write another article for you." I had scrolled down to read a further: "Hated it all, but especially loathed the self-gratifying digressional anecdotes".

It didn't take me long to realise that I had committed a few cardinal errors; the first being to - naively and arrogantly - expect that my audience might judge the article by its own merit alone, completely sparing me any criticism that arose from certain readers' opinions of me as a person; the second being that, just as one of the above-mentioned commenters suggested, I had fallen prey to the romantic image of myself as a writer. Yes, I had to agree, my article had been self-gratifying, indulgent and much of it digressional. The experience was entirely humbling.

The student online tabloid, with its love of sensational stories, big personalities and glossy visuals, can so easily become a publicizing platform for the egocentric BNOC attempting now to cast his reputation wider than his Facebook newsfeed. Trolling comes as a welcome slap in the face, preventing the online tabloid from becoming just a glorified social network and encouraging writers to spare a thought for their audiences before writing the word 'I'.

'I' will finish, however, by arguing that, although entirely healthy in the education of the online journo an initial bout of trolling may be, the remedy to vitriolic reviews should not be to pacify one's readers entirely. For an audience like that of the online tabloid - one baying for blood and guts - the one thing more excruciating to read than a monologue of "Me Me Me" is a tangibly terrified article, more eager to avoid offence than it is to please.

The comment section is the heartbeat of an article, determining its vitality and lifespan. Whatever names you are called, whatever threats are made against your life, rejoice, at least, in the fact that your article was not met with apathy.